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Bruno Walter (conductor)
At the NBC Volume 2
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Concerto Grosso in G minor, Op 6 No 6 [18:00]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Symphony No 35 in D major K385 “Haffner” [17:10]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Symphony No 2 in D major, Op 73 [38:50]
NBC Symphony Orchestra
Live broadcast recording, NBC Studio 8H, Radio City, New York, 17 February 1940

Guest conductor Bruno Walter took the podium of the NBC Symphony Orchestra for the broadcast concert of February 17, 1940, his second appearance, and with excellent results. Dr. Walter assumes the basso continuo keyboard (piano) part, and leads a reduced ensemble still immersed in a romantic approach, lush in portamento and Luftpausen. His principals – violinists Mischa Mischakoff and Edwin Bachmann, and cellist Frank Miller – contribute to the warm intimacy of the reading.

Bruno Walter had only recorded Handel’s piece once, the Op 6 No 12 in 1938 in Paris. The “Musette” here warrants its own course of study in breathed, legato figures. Walter preserves the contrast in texture, concertino and ripieno, with a vivid sense for dynamics and propulsion, given the old-world values of the conception.

Walter enjoyed a strong affinity for Mozart’s 1783 Linz Symphony, even insisting it play a part in his famed “The Birth of a Performance” document years later for CBS. The dramatic contour of this work’s monothematic opening movement, strongly influenced by the C.P.E. Bach school of Empfindsamkeit emotionality, revels in leaps, rocket figures and diversions into fugato and the minor modes. Walter presents the two middle movements as classic studies in period art, the Andante and Menuetto raised to chiseled monuments in their respective, lyrical and ceremonial, courtly forms. Mozart instructed that the last movement, Presto, should be played “as fast as possible”. The vivacious musical filigree invites comparison to The Marriage of Figaro and The Abduction from the Seraglio, operas dear to Bruno Walter’s heart. The NBC Orchestra proves itself a virtuoso ensemble, responsive and pert, as required.

It was Bruno Walter’s recording of Brahms’s Symphony No 2 for CBS that first won my devotion to his cause. The 1877 work emerges as troubled idyll, lyric but invaded by moments of doubt. The generally bucolic first movement enjoys the plastic contrast in timbres between strings, French horn and three trombones. That Walter has the power to bring forth lilting sunshine from amidst dire clouds finds ample testimony in this reading, which does neither drag nor cloy with the Brahms melos.

The opening notes of the symphony reappear in clever permutations throughout, and the marvelous Adagio non troppo works melancholy wonders with the three-note motif. The timpani, tuba and trombones add the distinctive, B major and B minor, autumnal hue to a movement Walter drives forward, permeated with lyrical, if sometimes somber, emotions. Following both Schubert and Schumann, Brahms structures his Allegretto grazioso movement with two intervening trios; the NBC Orchestra oboist Robert Bloom is in good form. Walter’s brisk tempo for the third movement cascade into the finale, Allegro con spirito, where a Haydnesque sense of unbuttoned mirth finds its few restraints in the composer’s insistence on contrapuntal devices of all kinds. Walter launches the movement forward in hearty, hefty fashion, exulting in the high winds and wickedly impelled strings and brass. We easily forget the “learned” aspects of the score, so insistently does the sonata-rondo proceed to a glorious apotheosis in the reading by Walter and the NBC Orchestra. Their fervent optimism finds equal energy in the prolonged, manic, audience response, all captured in beautifully restored sound, courtesy of Andrew Rose’s XR technology.

Gary Lemco

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