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Bruno Walter in Vienna, London & New York
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Siegfried Idyll [16:39]
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Symphony No. 86 in D major [22:33]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, Op. 97 Rhenish [31:00]
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra (Wagner), London Symphony Orchestra (Haydn), New York Philharmonic (Schumann)/Bruno Walter
rec. 1935 (Wagner); 1938 (Haydn); 1941 (Schumann)
OPUS KURA OPK2120 [70:55]

This is the fourth volume in Opus Kura’s newly remastered Bruno Walter series. Earlier, I reviewed the other three volumes (review~ review). As far as I can gather, Haydn’s Symphony No. 86 has been released previously by the label, but the Wagner and Schumann items are new to its catalogue. The recordings span a significant period in the conductor’s life, and each is a collaboration with a different orchestra.

Just to add some context, Walter 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. Things changed dramatically 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 remained for the rest of his days.

The earliest recording here is Wagner’s Siegfied Idyll from 1935, with the Vienna Philharmonic. Walter delivers a beautifully lyrical account, natural, well-paced and free-flowing. He draws a warm and richly burnished tone from the strings of the VPO, which ideally suits this music.

Haydn’s Symphony No. 86 is my favorite of the “Paris” Symphonies. Its finest recording I have ever heard is with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields under Neville Marriner. It has never been matched, in my view. Like Marriner, Walter instils plenty of energy and gusto into the opening movement, keeping a tight rein on ensemble and preventing it degenerating into raggedness. The elegant strut of the Menuetto carries you along, and I love the way he stylishly contours the trio. The Allegro con spirito finale truly sparkles, with Walter injecting much wit and light-heartedness into the playing. The orchestra is the LSO, the date 1938. The performance, as a whole, is a far cry from Ansermet’s weary rendition which, for me, lacks oomph.

Schumann’s Rhenish Symphony was set down with the New York Philharmonic on February 4, 1941 at the Liederkranz Hall. Walter’s performance favours greater urgency and more brisk tempi in the outer movements, without skimping on detail. The third movement has a certain delicacy, with emphasis placed on the beguiling lyricism of the music. There is much nobility and splendour in Feierlich. Everything seems to come together in a reading that sounds fresh, blows the cobwebs away and banishes all sense of routine.

Kiyoshi Yasuhara’s transfers showcase these valuable recordings at their very best, and Gary Lemco’s excellent annotations offer some welcome background.

Stephen Greenbank



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