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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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