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From Ocean’s Floor


Anton BRUCKNER (1824 - 1896)
Symphony No. 9 in D minor (1896)
Columbia Symphony Orchestra/Bruno Walter
rec. 16 and 18 November 1959, American Legion Hall, Hollywood, California. XR re-mastering, stereo

Having just reviewed Walter’s recording of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony with the East coast incarnation of the “Columbia Symphony Orchestra”, it was interesting to hear its West coast equivalent. It was largely drawn from the Los Angeles Philharmonic but here remains incognito, whereas in the Mahler issue Pristine calls the orchestra the “New York Philharmonic”.
No matter; whatever their name, we are hearing a very fine ensemble indeed, no mere pick-up band. The intonation of the violins in the upward soaring first subject of the Adagio of the first movement is simply lovely, as is their sweet, cantabile playing of the descant over the recapitulation of the second theme. The concluding two minutes of shimmering strings punctuated by murmurings from the flutes and horns before the singing downward octave figure (B, G flat, A flat, B) brings the movement to a transcendent close.
This 1959 recording has been regarded as a classic since its first appearance because of its warmth and sincerity. Walter was already 82 and in poor health following his heart attacks, dying three years later, so there is inevitably an autumnal and valedictory ambience about a recording to which he brought a lifetime’s experience. The original stereo recording from Philips was always very good but following Andrew Rose’s expert XR re-mastering, it is now really honeyed and mellow, as befits Bruckner. Hiss is reduced and there is now a wonderfully enhanced sonority about the brass; sample them in the conclusion of the first subject of the first movement just before the yearning second subject unfolds so beguilingly.
Of the dozen or so recordings of this symphony that I own and know, interestingly, Walter’s is the version whose timings are the closest to a 2:1:2 ratio, perhaps reflecting the conductor’s sense of proportion and symmetry in the work as a whole. He has an over-arching concept of the symphony which results in his first movement being played at a fairly average speed, the Scherzo being the slowest apart from Bernstein’s and the Adagio actually being fairly speedy - not that any of these observations are apparent at the time of listening. I quote the original 1961 “Gramophone” review by “L.S.” (presumably Lionel Salter) whose review is excerpted in the Pristine booklet notes: “When … Bruno Walter takes charge, the music can flow with an unruffled assurance, a sense of coherence and quiet purpose, a direct eloquence which can transform the work.” Exactly; these are the same qualities which make his Mahler so compelling. Walter always finds the perfect compromise between contemplation and momentum in Bruckner, which is why there are no longueurs; his subtle control over dynamics and rubato is typical of his non-interventionist approach and there are no jarring gear changes. As with his Mahler, Walter’s management of climaxes is overwhelming because he holds back until the last possible moment; thus there is no vulgar, premature bombast, yet neither is there any lack of urgency or tension in the Scherzo, despite what seems superficially to be its slow tempo.
No matter whether you buy this superb re-mastering by Pristine or stick with one of the CBS issues, this is a Ninth which belongs in every Bruckner collection.  

Ralph Moore

Masterwork Index: Bruckner symphony 9

Movement Timings 
1st mvt. Feierlich, Misterioso [24:03]
2nd mvt. Scherzo. Bewegt, lebhaft - Trio. Schnell [11:36]
3rd mvt. Adagio. Langsam, feierlich [23:24]