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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 6 in F major, Op. 68 Pastoral (1808) [38.59] +
Overtures: Fidelio, Op. 72, Act I [6.16]*; Leonore No. 3, Op. 72b [13.07] +; Coriolan Op. 62 [7.26] ^; The Creatures of Prometheus, Op. 43 [4.46] #
BBC Symphony Orchestra *
London Symphony Orchestra ^
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra +
British Symphony Orchestra #
Bruno Walter
rec. 1930-1938
NAXOS 8.111032 [70.35]

Bruno Walter made three commercial recordings of the Pastoral. This is the earliest and whilst not dissimilar to the later Philadelphia and Columbia Symphony traversals it does show a slightly tighter grip in places, though he does spurn the first movement repeat. Of the three I have to say that the middle recording, with the Philadelphia in 1946, remains my favoured interpretation but the pre-War Vienna has considerable merits of its own and these are shown in fine relief in this well aerated transfer by Mark Obert-Thorn. Once again he retains a limited amount of surface noise in the interests of open and warm sound.

The upper strings make an impression but more so the characterful Vienna winds. Rather less impressive, a fault one assumes of the original recording set-up, are the treacly and congealed basses. Nevertheless the phrasing is eloquent and refined, if a touch inclined now and again to comma-ish pointing; here the Philadelphia performance is its superior in length of phrasing. The Peasants’ Merrymaking is notable for superlative flute, clarinet and bassoon playing – the spatial matters are nicely caught with the horns’ well highlit and the violins’ entries crisp and spruce. Those flutes pierce in the Thunderstorm but there are a few balance imprecisions between first and second violins in the Shepherds’ Song.

The overtures cover Walter’s London recordings with the BBC Symphony, the British Symphony and the LSO. They make a cracking quartet. Leonore has been on the Great Conductors series from Koch and it rightfully takes its place here. So powerful is its cantilever and so fluent is it in its leonine drama. Coriolan is similarly impressive though perhaps the orchestral ensemble isn’t as tight. His recording with the 1930 British Symphony will alert collectors to the Violin Concerto Walter was to lead with Szigeti two years later. In fact this quartet of overtures makes, if anything, an even greater case for Walter’s status as a powerful and incisive Beethovenian than the Pastoral, fine though it is. Those who only know him from his post-War recordings will certainly welcome evidence of his earlier mastery in this repertoire.

Jonathan Woolf






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