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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Symphony No.5 in B flat D485 (1816) [27.56] *
Symphony No.8 in B minor D759 Unfinished (1822) [24.50]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Overture to Leonore No.3 Op.72a (1806) [13.39]
Columbia Symphony Orchestra*/Bruno Walter
New York Philharmonic Orchestra/Bruno Walter
rec. Columbia Studios, NYC, 1954 (Leonore), American Legion Hall, Hollywood, California 1960 (No.5), St George Hotel, Brooklyn, NYC (No.8) 1958
SONY CLASSICAL 82876 787412 [66.53]

The Schubert Symphonies are old friends, recorded in 1958 and 1960, the Fifth with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra and the Unfinished with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, an orchestra that admired Walter; I was surprised to discover that elsewhere the Orchestra of the Met didn’t admire him at all.
The coupling has been around before of course, the last time on Sony SACD SS6506. Each successive restoration adds something to the original. The rather veiled quality that afflicted the LPs was done away with in the SACD incarnation and I’m glad to say that Sony hasn’t backtracked in this latest DSD and SBM incarnation. I’ve been generally impressed by Sony’s application of these systems; fake reverb has been banished where it had been added (see Szell’s Mozart reviewed tomorrow) and the improvements in this release, whilst not graphic, are certainly those of an increased clarification of string sound. At a time when companies are cutting back on adequate restoration work Sony’s care in this respect should not go unnoticed.
Walter’s 1960 B flat recording hasn’t Beecham’s geniality or élan but it does have an unhurried and patrician affection that is hard to gainsay. The generosity of the phrasing never descends to Casals’s rather heavy-handed loving kindness; the sectional balance is fine, the direction remains crisply understated but affectionate. The wind and horn principals distinguish themselves in the slow movement where Walter brings out detail with candour but without any kind of finicky over-scrupulousness.  Genial and leisurely – and without any crunching tutti weight – the finale is of a piece with Walter’s mature perception of the symphony. It’s a young man’s work but seen somewhat through avuncular and retrospective eyes.
The Unfinished was recorded two years earlier, this time in New York. Poised and patrician once more this is a reading that concentrates on lyricism rather than incipient tension or internal dynamic contrasts. The orchestra sounds notably fine and Walter’s direction retains a grand seigniorial approach, one that will perhaps disappoint those who might have missed the spirit of his fiery wartime performances with this orchestra, a time when he seemed on occasion hell bent on recreating Toscanini’s sweeping dynamism. Nevertheless his later approach certainly makes up in warmth and spacious breadth – especially the second movement – what it lacks in velocity and power.
A useful filler is provided by the Overture to Leonore No.3. In wartime New York he’d raced through this in record time – the evidence is on an Arbiter CD coupled with other symphonic performances and Huberman’s traversal of Mozart K218 concerto. Here he takes the same kind of tempo he’d taken in pre-War Vienna – actually he’s, perhaps inevitably, a touch slower than the 1936 VPO disc but refutes his live NY performance when he’d driven through it in 11.48.
In uniform red livery with LP reproduction on the booklet cover this is another welcome rebranded and remastered entrant in the Great Performances edition. I wouldn’t want to argue too far how great this brace of Schubert symphony performances actually is but I’m more than happy to welcome them in this revivified format.
Jonathan Woolf




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