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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers


Bruno Walter Rarities: American Columbia Recordings 1941-55
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Symphony No. 41 in C major Jupiter K551 (1788) [27:02]
Cosě fan Tutte: overture, K588 (1790) [4:17]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Symphony No.5 in B flat major D485 (1816) [27:13]
Symphony No.8 in B minor Unfinished D759 (1822) [22:41]
Johann STRAUSS II (1825-1899)
Emperor Waltz, Op. 437 (1888) [9:15]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Incidental Music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Scherzo, Op.61 (1826/1842) [4:37]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Schicksalslied, Op. 54 (1868-71) [13:02]
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Symphony No. 8 in G major, Op. 88 (1889) [30:51]
Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York with Westminster Choir
Columbia Symphony Orchestra (Schubert Symphony No.5)
Philadelphia Orchestra (Schubert Symphony No.8)
PRISTINE AUDIO PASC452 [67:38 + 71:11]

Pristine has been doing some fine archival restoration when it comes to Bruno Walter’s legacy. Their excellent work on Walter’s acoustic Polydors, for example, filled a much needed gap but it’s the case that other, more recent things have long fallen by the wayside. Stereo remakes rendered earlier mono inscriptions technologically redundant and so they have been overlooked ... which is where this twofer comes in.

The Jupiter Symphony is one of six items here made with the Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York. As Mark Obert-Thorn’s producer’s note reminds the reader, Walter left four commercial recordings of this – firstly in Vienna pre-war and then again in New York in 1956 and finally with the Columbia Symphony in stereo in 1960 which is possibly the one that has garnered the most widespread commercial success. This 1945 recording is notable for its expressive warmth though it’s just a little clotted in places. He recorded the overture to Cosě on the same day and that’s here too, to fill another gap. Schubert’s Fifth Symphony was recorded with the Columbia Symphony in 1955 and was soon to be replaced by a stereo remake in what was for Walter the autumnal year of 1960. This earlier version is quite grand seigneurial and big-boned in places. There’s not much con moto about the slow movement and the Walterian conception of the finale’s Allegro vivace is of a piece; rather the obverse of a Beecham conception. The first disc ends with a relaxed, affectionate Johann Strauss Emperor Waltz: his later 1956 re-recording is the most commonly encountered.

There are two more major symphonic statements in the second disc. Schubert’s Unfinished dates from Philadelphia in 1947 and represents one of only two recordings he made in the city – the other was Beethoven’s Pastoral. The orchestra’s famously burnished string choirs – much more viscerally expressive than their New York counterparts – are complemented by some vivid wind playing in a reading of great depth, comparable to Beecham’s reading and superior to Koussevitzky’s. The Scherzo from Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream was a filler to Milstein’s Violin Concerto recording made with the PSONY in 1945 and is the conductor’s only rendering on disc, so its presence here is very welcome. Brahms’s Schicksalslied, or Song of Destiny, is sung in English in New York in 1941 by the Westminster Choir, once more with the Philharmonic-Symphony. He made a late remake in 1961 in Los Angeles but this taut wartime inscription, though obviously lacking stereo, is interpretatively excellent. Which leads to Dvořák’s Symphony No.8, made in New York in 1947. This gets an unusually terse reading with a driving Allegretto that bypasses the grazioso marking. The sleek portamenti don’t make up for a curiously unidiomatic slant. The stereo 1961 remake was more spacious and benevolent.

The transfers have been finely done and altogether this is a canny piece of programming that succeeds in shedding renewed light on little-explored recordings.

Jonathan Woolf



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