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Bruno WALTER (1876-1962)
Violin Sonata in A major (1908) [28:08]
Piano Quintet in F sharp minor (1904) [31:18]
Ekaterina Frolova (violin); Mari Sato (piano) (Sonata); Patrick Vida (violin I), Lydia Peherstorfer (violin II), Sybille Häusle (viola), Stefanie Huber (cello); Le Liu (piano) (Quintet)
rec. Joseph Haydn Hall, University for Music and Performing Arts Vienna, Austria, 10 May 2013 (Sonata); 17 December 2012 (Quintet). DDD
Booklet notes in English and German
NAXOS 8.573351 [59:26]

Bruno Walter (originally Bruno Walter Schlesinger) like many another revered conductor was also a composer. Let's not forget Weingartner, Klemperer, Furtwängler and Leslie Heward to mention only a few. I am also sure there were and are plenty of revered composers who were also conductors. Walter's conducting heritage has had its meed of recognition especially on CBS-Sony (39-CD box issued in 2012) but also on Decca with Ferrier and Patzak in Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde.

His work as a composer came to an end when exposed at close quarters - conducting premieres in many cases - to the full glory to the music of his friend Mahler. Before that withering blast had taken its toll he wrote two symphonies, Das Siegesfest for solo voices, chorus and orchestra, various songs and one each string quartet, piano quintet, piano trio and violin sonata. The violin sonata has had quite a few recordings - Graffin (Hyperion), Wallace (VAIA) & Shahan (Talent) - but it was CPO's contribution of the red-blooded hour-long Symphony No. 1 in D Minor with Leon Botstein that knocked me sideways. Mahler had dismissed the work out of hand, it seems. I have been waiting with enforced patience for CPO to follow up with Walter's Second Symphony. Incidentally I should also mention, curiosity value or not, Walter's two-piano arrangement of Mahler's Resurrection (Naxos).

The Violin Sonata is very much a sonata for violin and piano with neither player ancillary to the other. It's in a romantically high flown yet not over-boiled style with some indebtedness to Brahms. Earnest it may be but this is no obstacle to Walter prefacing the middle movement's dolce-dolce writing with what amounts to a gawky troll tango. It's a clever touch and carried off in a very seemly way. While there is ardour in spades in the first movement, the 'Moderato' finale flirts with some florally static salon-style pages before, in its last few moments, asserting itself. Interesting but not transfixing. The other three recordings of the Sonata come with works by other composers. This Naxos disc introduces listeners to Walter's four-movement Piano Quintet; a first recording as far as I can see. This is an exultant work with plenty of joyous activity for each of the five musicians. It is demonstrative, tense and brimming with intense cantabile. Here the finale makes for a convincing conclusion; more so than the equivalent movement in the Sonata. It should appeal to those who are already captivated by the quintets by Vierne and Medtner. Both performances are more than capable with the listener gaining the feeling that the players know the music well enough to enjoy putting it across rather than having to concentrate on forming the notes.

Both the composer and Arnold Rosé, then leader of the Vienna PO, were involved in the premieres of these and the other chamber works. This disc is very much a University for Music and Performing Arts Vienna affair. The University received the Bruno Walter papers from Walter's daughter, Lotte Walter-Lindt, in 1962 and now are active in bringing them to listening attention.

The notes are in German and English and are by Michael Staudinger, Wolfgang Klos and Gerold Gruber. A well selected photograph of the young, confident and pursed-lipped Walter adorns the booklet cover.

I see that this very cogently coupled disc was made possible by "generous sponsorship from the University for Music and Performing Arts Vienna". It has proved a good use of this august body's precious resources. Perhaps they will feel sufficiently pleased to back a disc of the Walter String Quartet and Piano Trio.

Rob Barnett



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