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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Bruno Walter - 78s Recordings
Serenade No.13, K525 ‘Eine Kleine Nachtmusik’ [15:42]
Symphony No.38 in D major, K.504 'Prague' [22:08]
Symphony No.41 in C major, K.551 'Jupiter' [26:44]
La finta giardiniera Overture, K.196 [2:10]
La Clemenza di Tito Overture, K.621 [4:17]
Piano Concerto No.20 in D minor, K.466 (Cadenza: Reinecke) [27:10]
3 German Dances, K.605 [5:23]
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Bruno Walter (piano)
rec. 1936-1938
OPUS KURA OPK2118/9 [64:34 + 39:00]

Bruno Walter (1876-1962) was born in Berlin, and trained at the city’s Stern Conservatory. In the early days of his career he also gravitated towards Munich and Leipzig. This all came to an abrupt end, when Hitler came to power in 1933. The Nazis’ anti-semitic policies forced Walter, a Jew, to flee to Austria. He spent the next few years in Vienna as artistic director of the Vienna State Opera and frequently conducted the orchestra, under its concert hall title Vienna Philharmonic. He remained in this situation until 1938, when he was uprooted once again, moving to France and from there to America, where he spent the rest of his life. These years in Vienna were very productive and he made a number of recordings for Columbia. This 2 CD release focuses on his Mozart recordings, set down between 1936-1938.

The two symphonies form the centre of focus, and listening to them leaves one in no doubt that Walter has lived long with these works and has them at his fingertips. Comfortable speeds, natural phrasing and rhythmic flexibility are hallmarks. The symphony No. 38 ‘Prague’ has a powerfully dramatic slow introduction, preceding an animated allegro, where the contrapuntal lines are highlighted to effect. The slow movement is eloquently shaped and flowing and the finale is played with gleaming vivacity, lightness and effervescence. No. 41 ‘Jupiter’ is no less engaging. Walter has an instinctive understanding of the structure and architecture of the work, and in the opening movement points up a wealth of orchestral detail. The Andante is informed by aristocratic elegance. Following a buoyant Menuetto, the finale has a striking directness and isn’t rushed, as are some performances. Once again, the contrapuntal lines are clearly defined and, above all, one senses a real joy in the music-making.

The D minor Piano Concerto sees Walter fulfilling the dual role of conductor/soloist. The opening movement is agreeably paced and rhythmically taut. Brooding and turbulent, he makes play of the underlying sturm und drang elements. He employs a cadenza by Carl Reinecke rather than the more familiar one by Beethoven. The second movement Romance has a restrained elegance and probing introspection. The central section, by contrast, is stormy and impassioned. He injects plenty of sparkle and verve into the finale, which brims over with exuberant gusto. Although this recording has surfaced previously, this transfer confers a rich, warm tone on the piano, with the instrument nicely balanced in the mix.

I have to nail my colours to the mast straightaway and admit that I’m not a fan of Eine kleine Nachtmusik and usually try to steer clear of it. However, when I heard the opening bars la Walter I felt no compulsion to reach for the fast forward button. Here’s a performance devoid of any vestige of stale routine, but rather suffused with charm, exhilaration and ebullience. You have to hear it!

The two overtures and three German dances, all of short duration, make satisfying fillers. To each, Walter brings the same level of commitment, authority, inspiration and musicianship.

I'm thankful to be reacquainted with the two symphonies. They were the very first Mozart I ever heard via a Music for Pleasure LP. That record disappeared long ago, and until this week I hadn't listened to these performances in years. Walter went on to make further commercial recordings of the two symphonies, the three German dances and Eine kleine Nachtmusik between 1954 and 1960. I’ve yet to hear these.

Opus Kura have worked wonders here. K Yasuhara has used Japanese Columbias for his remasterings with the exception of the two overtures where he’s turned to US Columbias. Everything sounds vital and fresh, with depth and perspective.
 
Stephen Greenbank

 

 



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