Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No 4 in E flat, Romantic [58:03]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Symphony No 35 in D, K 385, Haffner* [16:48]
Symphony No 9 in D minor** [52:30]
NBC Symphony Orchestra, *New York Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra,
**Philadelphia Orchestra/Bruno Walter
rec. live, 10 February, 1940, Studio 8-H, NBC Radio City, New York;
*6 February 1944, Carnegie Hall, New York; **28 February 1948, Academy
of Music, Philadelphia
MUSIC & ARTS CD-1262 [59:10 + 68:22]
In his extensive booklet note for this set Mark Kluge quotes from a 1948 letter
written by Bruno Walter in which he says “It will interest
you that I conduct Bruckner annually here in America”.
The conductor specifically mentions leading past Bruckner performances
in Boston and New York and that he was about to take Bruckner
to Philadelphia - the performance included in this set. This
was adventurous programming in those days when the Bruckner
symphonies were far less frequently performed than is the case
The earliest performance included here is the Fourth symphony.
I find it fascinating because there’s so much urgency
in the conducting - at times almost uncomfortably so - to my
ears. It’s interesting to read Mark Kluge’s comment
that this performance “is entirely in character with Walter’s
other recorded performances of this composer prior to 1959”.
It’s a very long time indeed since I listened to Walter’s
Columbia Symphony Orchestra traversal of this symphony, which
I used to have on LP - currently available on CD as Sony Classical
Originals 88697806152. However, I rather suspect that recording
was made after Mr Kluge’s watershed date of 1959 and though
my memory may well be fallible after so many years I don’t
recall that Walter interpretation as being urgent. Indeed, it
may be significant that its current CD incarnation spreads over
2 CDs with the Tännhauser Overture and Venusberg
Music completing the set. I wonder if this is an instance
of Walter’s “mellowing” towards the end of
As I say, this 1940 performance, in which Walter uses the 1888
version of the score, is often urgent. The scherzo is very fiery
- I can’t recall hearing such a hell-for-leather pacing
of the hunting horn material. It’s very exciting though
perhaps just a little too fast, though the orchestra
articulates the music expertly. The trio, however, is appropriately
leisurely. I especially admire Walter’s reading of the
second movement. The thematic material is not the most memorable
in Bruckner and needs an expert hand to mould it; that happens
here. In one or two passages Walter moves the music on surprisingly
swiftly; one such instance is the bars from 12:11 onwards leading
up to the main climax, yet when that climax is reached (12:35)
Walter makes it very broad and majestic.
I’m a bit more equivocal about the outer movements. The
first movement finds Walter pressing the tempo at several points
and personally I prefer a bit more breadth. However, one must
acknowledge Walter’s direct connections to the Viennese
tradition where memories of Bruckner would have been very vivid
- the composer had, by then, been dead less than fifty years.
In forming such a flexible view of the music Walter is well
served by the NBC Symphony players. I doubt this music can have
been too familiar to them yet Mark Kluge rightly draws attention
to the “extremely plastic execution” of the music,
which confirms the rapport between orchestra and conductor.
There’s much to admire in the finale even if I’m
not always comfortable with the several very urgent passages.
The fortissimo tutti between 10:32 and 11:53 is thrilling
even if, to my taste, the timpani are rather obtrusive. The
recording isn’t bad at all considering not only that it’s
over 70 years old but also that it emanates from Studio 8-H.
That said, the recording is somewhat taxed by the great brass
unison passage at 1:07. Walter handles the closing peroration
superbly, building it up from a mysterious start at 16:09. This
is, in summary, a pretty impressive performance of the symphony.
The Haffner symphony performance, previously unpublished,
is worth hearing. I didn’t have access to a score but
so far as I can tell Walter is pretty sparing with repeats.
There’s often a quite pronounced bass line; this is ‘big
band’ Mozart. Despite the use of what sounds like a fairly
large orchestra Walter conducts with energy and he gets lift
in the phrasing. Be prepared for an extremely spirited dash
for the finishing line at the end of the first movement (from
4:47). The second movement is gracefully done and the lighter
scoring here means that the recorded sound is particularly pleasing.
The minuet is very definitely taken at three beats in a bar
while the finale is full of energy. Overall, this is a good
performance of the symphony from a conductor who was justly
famed for his Mozart.
Music & Arts have already issued two live performances by
Walter of Bruckner’s 9th. One was given in 1946 (CD-1110)
and the other in February 1957 (CD-1212). Both performances
were with the New York Philharmonic. I’ve not heard either
of those but this Philadelphia account is very impressive. Walter
must have been something of a trailblazer in programming this
work for, apparently, this was the first time the orchestra
had played it - I don’t think Stokowski was a Bruckner
man. Apparently, the warm reception for the Ninth encouraged
Ormandy subsequently to programme both the Seventh and this
symphony in Philadelphia. Walter uses the 1932 Critical Edition
made by Alfred Orel for the Internationale Bruckner-Gesellschaft
though, apparently, he added a few re-touchings of his own.
The recording is not at all bad and, even more than sixty years
later, one can savour the brass tone of the Philadelphians and,
especially, the richness of the string choir. The first movement
unfolds majestically and Walter is equally successful in conveying
both the passages of grandeur and those in which Bruckner strikes
a lyrical vein. The playing is very good though one notices
an over-eager entry by a brass player at 20:41. Walter generates
excellent momentum in the scherzo, which is splendidly articulated
by the players. The trio is light and lithe.
Despite a few brief passages (for example 7:40 - 7:45) in which
I feel the tempo is pressed just a little too much, Walter’s
conception of the finale is hugely impressive. Sadly, the Wagner
tubas’ initial contributions are somewhat fallible but
they improve as time goes on and, thankfully, they’re
fine by the time the closing pages are reached. In fact the
brass section as a whole falter just occasionally in the finale;
perhaps by now they were tiring. However, any momentary lapses
in the playing can’t detract from a tremendous interpretation
by Walter and it has to be said that in his authoritative hands
Philadelphia’s first experience of this symphony could
not have been more auspicious. This account of the Ninth is
the highlight of the set.
This is an important issue. Aaron Z. Snyder has done a fine
job with these new restorations. These are performances which
Bruckner enthusiasts and Bruno Walter’s legion of admirers
will want to hear.
Masterwork Index: Symphony
4 ~~ Symphony