Bruno Walter – Standard Hour
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Parsifal – Prelude (1882) [13:20]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Mass in C minor, K427 – Et incarnates est (1782-83) [8:00]
Serenade No.13: Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, K525 (1787) [14:09]
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
The Seasons, Hob. XXI:3 (1799-1801); Oh welcome now [3:16]: Oh how pleasing to the senses [5:08]
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)
Oberon – Overture (1826) [8:36]
Standard Hour opening and closing announcements [3:20]
Brunetta Mazzolini (soprano)
San Francisco Symphony Orchestra/Bruno Walter
rec. 18 April 1954, War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco
No texts or translations

NBC Radio’s Standard Hour Broadcast No.1410 preserved a 56-minute performance given by guest conductor Bruno Walter and the San Francisco Symphony on 18 April 1954. The broadcast is topped and tailed by a preserved introduction and radio close, spoken by the announcer John Grover, something that always strikes me as enshrining the true atmosphere of the event.

Given the timing constraints the programme is somewhat bitty, though two substantial orchestral pieces frame the concert. The first is the Prelude to Parsifal, a work that was long established as part of his discography. The best-known example, coupled with the Good Friday music, was to come a few years later in 1959 when he directed the Columbia Symphony. Other performances though have survived, not least in New York in 1952 and with the Los Angeles Standard Symphony in 1949, which was revived by Music & Arts. Two of the more discographically venerable, however, and these are of particular interest to Walterites, are the London 78s made in 1925 and 1927, when he directed the orchestra of the Royal Philharmonic Society. This San Francisco reading – which was released on LP (CLSRPOL2031) – is moulded with distinguished lyricism and control. Though powerful in impression, it’s kept moving phrasally and with acutely judged rubati. Timings are deceptive here; post-performance speech bloats the track listing – Walter actually takes it in 12:20.

The other larger work is the piece with which he ends the performance, the overture to Oberon, which is also on the LP noted, as well as having been released on AS Disc. Verdant and full of brio it takes an honoured place alongside his earlier recordings with the NBC and LAPO. Soprano Brunetta Mazzolini was clearly a local favourite and had appeared on Standard Hour broadcasts before: at the time of this one she was on the staff at Portland. Importantly, Walter left behind no studio recordings of Mozart’s Mass in C minor, so this is a tantalising glimpse of the Et Incarnatus est. Mazzolini has a fine technique, and her voice is bright and relatively light. Again Walter didn’t conduct Haydn’s The Seasons in the studio so once again Mazzolini’s singing of two movements is all we have. Once more she evinces fine, focused singing, in English. This too was on the now rare LP noted as well as having been issued on a Japanese Bruno Walter Society LP.

Perhaps surprisingly, and despite these discographical novelties, it’s the most superficially hackneyed of the works, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik that proves the most quietly revelatory. It’s full of the most charming subtlety and warmth, and fully ranks alongside his pre-war Vienna performance. There’s not the tiniest hint of routine in this delightful reading.

Whether this will sway you to buy this disc depends on the depth of your allegiances to the conductor. The novelties here – though relatively brief - will certainly be tempting to the tightly-focused collector.

Jonathan Woolf