Bruno Walter's Bruckner 9: "a truly noble reading" (The Gramophone)
Walter's vision of Bruckner's final symphonic masterpiece - an unprecedented clarity of sound
REVIEW Symphony No. 9, 1961 UK LP issue
Readers of the correspondence columns of The Listener will have noticed a recent set-to between anti- and pro-Brucknerites, hotly contesting whether or not Bruckner was tedious. What nobody thought to say was that, more than with most composers, his music depends on his interpreters: lack of sympathy with his leviathan scores, or misunderstanding or wilful disregard of their markings (always assuming they are the right scores to start with, and not "improvements" by well-meaning editors) can easily result in performances which stress the naivete, the vast leisureliness, the structural weaknesses to an intolerable degree. When, on the other hand, a Bruno Walter takes charge, the music can flow with an unruffled assurance, a sense of coherence and quiet purpose, a direct eloquence which utterly transforms the work. So sensitive is Walter to the ebb-and-flow of Bruckner's tides of thought that even in such vast movements as the opening one here, or the Adagio which represents the apotheosis of his humble lifelong glorification of God , one forgets to become impatient with their length but is absorbed into the rich romantic texture slowly unfolded. The Scherzo in this performance is taken at an unusually steady pace, which slightly lessens the contrast of tempi intended; but it is so meticulously played, and so lightly, that the effect comes to seem entirely convincing. The Columbia Symphony Orchestra plays admirably throughout, responsive to Walter's every direction; and the result is a truly noble reading. After this Adagio indeed any finale, had it ever been completed, might well have come as an anti-climax. The recording is outstandingly good, in mono as well as stereo; and the change-over which enables the symphony to be contained on only two sides, coming as it does at the da capo from the Trio back to the Scherzo, is at as unobtrusive a point as possible.
L.S., The Gramophone, June 1961
Notes on the recording:
Bruno Walter made three studio recordings of music by Bruckner: the 4th, 7th and 9th Symphonies. Each was recorded during the very last years of his life, with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra (generally believed to consist largely of the Los Angeles Philharmonic) in stereo. As with the two Mahler recordings of the same provenance, released earlier this year as Pristine PASC376, these recordings were well made but - to modern ears at least - have something of a sonic veil over them. This may indeed not be apparent - until one compares the Sony/Columbia releases with these new 32-bit XR-remastered transfers. Suddenly one discovers an immediacy, a fullness of tone, the rasp of the brass, the rumble of the deep bass, the sheer vitality of Walter's orchestra and performance conveyed as never before. The recordings were of course taped, and I've managed to correct some minor pitch drifts throughout the recording, as well as reduce some of the hiss inherent in any analogue recording. But what will impact most on the listener here will be the massive, three-dimensional impact of the performance, the precise detail in Walter's direction, and an unprecedented clarity of sound.
notes from Wikipedia
Bruno Walter (September 15, 1876 – February 17, 1962) was a German-born conductor. Born in Berlin, he is known to have lived in several countries between 1933 and 1939, before finally settling in the United States in 1939. Though he was born Bruno Schlesinger, he began using Walter as his surname in 1896, and officially changed his surname to Walter upon becoming a naturalised Austrian in 1911. Walter was for many years active as a composer, but his works have not entered the repertoire.
Born near Alexanderplatz in Berlin to a middle-class Jewish family as Bruno Schlesinger, he began his musical education at the Stern Conservatory at the age of eight, making his first public appearance as a pianist when he was nine. However, following visits to one of Hans von Bülow's concerts in 1889 and to Bayreuth in 1891, he changed his mind and decided upon a conducting career. He made his conducting début at the Cologne Opera with Albert Lortzing's Der Waffenschmied in 1894. Later that year he left for the Hamburg Opera to work as a chorus director. There he first met and worked with Gustav Mahler, whom he idolized and with whose music he later became strongly identified.
In 1896, Schlesinger took a conducting position at the opera house in Breslau – a job found for him by Mahler. The conductor recorded that the director of this theater, Theodor Löwe, required that before taking up this position he change his name of Schlesinger, which literally means Silesian, "because of its frequent occurrence in the capital of Silesia", although other sources attribute the change to a desire to make his name sound less Jewish. (Note: It is often stated that Walter was his middle name and he merely dropped the surname Schlesinger. This is not true; he had no middle name and "Walter" had never been one of his names.) In 1897, he took an opera-conducting position at Pressburg, and in 1898 he took one at the Riga Opera, Latvia. Then Walter returned in 1900 to Berlin, where he assumed the post of Royal Prussian Conductor at the Staatsoper Unter den Linden, succeeding Franz Schalk; his colleagues there included Richard Strauss and Karl Muck. While in Berlin he also conducted the premiere of Der arme Heinrich by Hans Pfitzner, who became a lifelong friend.
In 1901, Walter accepted Mahler's invitation to be his assistant at the Court Opera in Vienna. Walter led Verdi's Aida at his debut. In the following years Walter's conducting reputation soared as he was invited to conduct across Europe – in Prague, in London where in 1910 he conducted Tristan und Isolde and Ethel Smyth's The Wreckers at Covent Garden, and in Rome. A few months after Mahler's death in 1911, Walter led the first performance of Das Lied von der Erde in Munich, as well as Mahler's Symphony No. 9 in Vienna the next year.
Although Walter became an Austrian citizen in 1911, he left Vienna to become the Royal Bavarian Music Director in Munich in 1913. In January of the following year Walter conducted his first concert in Moscow. During the First World War he remained actively involved in conducting, giving premieres to Erich Wolfgang Korngold's Violanta and Der Ring des Polykrates as well as Hans Pfitzner's Palestrina. In 1920 he conducted the premiere of Walter Braunfels' Die Vögel.
Back in Europe Walter was re-engaged for several appointments, including Berlin in 1925 as musical director at the Städtische Opera, Charlottenburg, and in Leipzig in 1929. He made his debut at La Scala in 1926. In London, Walter was chief conductor of the German seasons at Covent Garden from 1924 to 1931.
In his speeches in the late 1920s, Nazi leader Adolf Hitler complained bitterly about the presence of Jewish conductors at the Berlin opera, and mentioned Walter a number of times, adding to Walter's name the phrase, "alias Schlesinger." In 1933, when the Nazis took power, they undertook a systematic process of barring Jews from artistic life.
While rehearsing Mahler 9 with the Berlin Philharmonic, Nazis entered the theater to take Walter. The orchestra hurried the maestro out the back door. He left for Austria and did not see his family for 5 years. Later, when listening to a playback of the first movement, principal players of The Columbia Symphony were ushered out of the booth as Walter began to weep. After the door was closed, the musicians were told, "Gentlemen, you must excuse him. This was the place in the symphony when the Nazis entered the hall. He was smuggled out the back door and didn't see his family for 5 years."[told by James Decker, principal horn of the Columbia Symphony and witness to the event]
Austria became his main center of activity for the next several years, although he was also a frequent guest conductor of the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra from 1934 to 1939, and made guest appearances such as in annual concerts with the [] from 1932 to 1936. At the time of the Anschluss in 1938, Walter was at a recording session in Paris; France offered Walter citizenship, which he accepted. (His elder daughter Lotte was in Vienna at the time, and was arrested by the Nazis; Walter was able to use his influence to free her. He also used his influence to find safe quarters for his brother and sister in Scandinavia during the war.)
Walter's daughter Marguerite was murdered on August 21 of 1939 in Berlin by her husband, who then killed himself; his motive was jealousy over her growing relationship with the Italian basso Ezio Pinza. Walter's wife fell into a permanent depression, and Walter blamed himself for the tragedy, as his daughter had met Pinza only because Walter had made special efforts to hire him to sing the role of Don Giovanni.
On November 1, 1939, he set sail for the United States, which became his permanent home. He settled in Beverly Hills, California, where his many expatriate neighbors included the German writer Thomas Mann.
While Walter had many influences within music, in his Of Music and Making (1957) he notes a profound influence from the philosopher Rudolf Steiner. He notes, "In old age I have had the good fortune to be initiated into the world of anthroposophy and during the past few years to make a profound study of the teachings of Rudolf Steiner. Here we see alive and in operation that deliverance of which Friedrich Hölderlin speaks; its blessing has flowed over me, and so this book is the confession of belief in anthroposophy. There is no part of I my inward life that has not had new light shed upon it, or been stimulated, by the lofty teachings of Rudolf Steiner ... I am profoundly grateful for having been so boundlessly enriched ... It is glorious to become a learner again at my time of life. I have a sense of the rejuvenation of my whole being which gives strength and renewal to my musicianship, even to my music-making."
During his years in the United States, Walter worked with many famous American orchestras, including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the NBC Symphony Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic (where he was musical adviser from 1947 to 1949, but declined an offer to be music director), and the Philadelphia Orchestra. From 1946 onwards, he made numerous trips back to Europe, becoming an important musical figure in the early years of the Edinburgh Festival and in Salzburg, Vienna and Munich. His late life was marked by stereo recordings with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra, an ensemble of professional musicians assembled by Columbia Records for recordings. He made his last live concert appearance on December 4, 1960 with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and pianist Van Cliburn. His last recording was a series of Mozart overtures with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra at the end of March in 1961. Although raised a Jew, near the end of his life Walter converted to Catholicism.
Bruno Walter died of a heart attack in his Beverly Hills home in 1962.
Walter's work was documented on hundreds of recordings made between 1900 (when he was 24) and 1961. Most listeners became familiar with him through the stereo recordings made in his last few years, when his health was declining. But many critics agree that these recordings do not fully convey what Walter's art must have sounded like in its prime. For one thing, the late recordings sometimes have a geniality that contrasts with the more mercurial, intense, and energetic performances Walter recorded in earlier decades. For another, the late recordings focus mostly on music from Mozart through Mahler, but in Walter's youth he often conducted what was then newer music (including Mahler).
Walter worked closely with Mahler as an assistant and protege. Mahler did not live to perform his Das Lied von der Erde or Symphony No. 9, but his widow, Alma Mahler, asked Walter to premiere both. Walter led the first performance of Das Lied in 1911 in Munich and of the Ninth in 1912 in Vienna with the Vienna Philharmonic. Decades later, Walter and the Vienna Philharmonic (with Mahler's brother-in-law Arnold Rose still the concertmaster) made the first recordings of Das Lied von der Erde in 1936 and of the Ninth Symphony in 1938. Both were recorded live in concert, the latter only two months before the Nazi Anschluss drove Walter (and Rose) into exile.
These recordings are of special interest for the performance practices of the orchestra and also for intensity of expression. Walter was to re-record both works successfully in later decades. His famous Decca Das Lied von der Erde with Kathleen Ferrier, Julius Patzak, and the Vienna Philharmonic was made in May, 1952, and he recorded it again in studio with the New York Philharmonic in 1960. He conducted the New York Philharmonic in the 1957 stereo recording of the second symphony. He recorded the Ninth in stereo in 1961. These recordings, as well as his other American recordings, were released initially by Columbia Records and later on CD by Sony.
Since Mahler himself never conducted the Ninth Symphony and Das Lied von der Erde, Walter's performances cannot be taken as documentations of Mahler's interpretations. But in the light of Walter's personal connection with the composer, and his having given the original performances, they have another kind of primary authenticity. In his other (greatly esteemed) recordings of Mahler – various songs and the First, Second, Fourth, and Fifth symphonies – there is the great added interest that he had heard Mahler's own performances of most of them.
Walter made many highly acclaimed recordings of other great Germanic composers, such as Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, Johannes Brahms, Johann Strauss Jr., and Anton Bruckner, as well as of Bach, Wagner, Schumann, Dvorak, Richard Strauss, Tchaikovsky, Smetana, and others. Walter was a leading conductor of opera, particularly known for his Mozart, and recordings of some from the Metropolitan Opera and the Salzburg Festival are now available on CD. So are performances of Wagner, Verdi, and Beethoven's Fidelio. Also of great interest are recordings from the 1950s of his rehearsals of Mozart, Mahler, and Brahms, which give insight into his musical priorities and into the warm and non-tyrannical manner (as contrasted with some of his colleagues) with which he related to orchestras.
Notes from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bruno_Walter
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