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Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Symphony No.8 in G major Op.88 (1898) [30:28]
Slavonic Dance Op.46 No.1 B83 (1878) [4:16]
Bedřich SMETANA (1824-1884)
The Bartered Bride – Overture (1866) [6:51] *
Ma Vlast – Vltava (1874) [11:49]
New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra/Bruno Walter
London Symphony Orchestra/Bruno Walter *
rec. New York 1941 (Slavonic Dance and Vltava); 1947 (Symphony) and London, 1938 (Bartered Bride)
IDIS 6509 [53:27]



These performances won’t come as a great surprise to Walter’s staunchest admirers, the younger of whom however will be more familiar with the stereo 1961 No.8 than this 1947 incarnation. It’s that late recording that I prefer in almost every respect, though it’s certainly instructive to hear Walter in what one could perhaps suggestively call Toscanini Mode. Actually on second thoughts anyone familiar with that architecturally cogent 1961 reading might be enlightened by the blazing and often slipshod performance the great man foisted on the record-buying world fourteen years earlier.
 
The 1947 disc is an exercise in dramatic cut and thrust. Abrupt and paragraphal it has a rather coarse sense of architectural development. Some of the tempo changes sound ill-considered if not downright arbitrary and there’s a blustery feel to the whole thing – negative qualities that were almost all reversed in the years to come. The brusque and heavy-handed approach to the slow movement is mirrored by the galvanic and daemonic accelerandi of the scherzo. The finale is plain raucous. All this is not helped by a crude New York recording.
 
The all-Czech disc is completed by three “fillers.” The Bartered Bride overture is the only pre-War recording, made in London in 1938. The very shallow sound attests to far too much noise reduction. The Slavonic Dance is heavy-handed and thoroughly unconvincing. Which leaves the ubiquitous Vltava or in this case very much Die Moldau. Basses and percussion are galumphing and ill defined. The dappled is highlighted and the earthy downplayed. The performance is rather like the equivalent of one of those jeering German critics who announce that “There is no such thing as Czech Music.” This is very much an Austro-German interpretation with the Imperial flag still flying over the Czech Lands.
 
The transfers are no better than serviceable. I’ve already referred to the 1938 London session but the post-War one should sound far better than this. There are some biographical notes about Walter but nothing specific relating to these performances.
 
Jonathan Woolf

 



 


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