Bruno Walter, "whose reading may be accepted as authentic", conducts Mahler's 2nd
Fabulously improved sound quality for "this admirable issue" in this 32-bit XR remastering
REVIEW 1959 UK LP issue
In good time for next year’s Mahler centenary comes a recording which is certain to make a strong appeal to all real Mahler enthusiasts, all the more since it is conducted by the composer’s distinguished disciple, Bruno Walter, whose reading may be accepted as authentic and who clearly loves this music. The Second Symphony, provided by Mahler with a weighty “programme” about life and death, the Last Trump and the resurrection of the dead, and the assurance of a life hereafter (“Sterben werd* ich, um zu leben”), is nevertheless a work which takes a good deal of stomaching. Faced with concepts of such magnitude, Mahler becomes merely grandiloquent: the enormous apparatus he demands—a huge orchestra, with large reserves of extra brass and percussion, organ, chorus and soloists—ends jby becoming unwieldy; the suspicion increases, as the symphony’s vast length unfolds, that it would have been the better for more matter and less art; and it cannot be denied that at the very point where nobility of thought is needed, Mahler (like Strauss in a similar context) falls dangerously near bathos. For all that, beneath all the pomp there lie some characteristically striking and beautiful ideas, and when Mahler, for contrast, reverts to the vein of childhood innocence and naivete—as in the Landler movement - (based on one of the Knaben Wunder horn songs)—he is at his most charming. Indeed, there may be more of heaven here, as seen through the eyes of a child, than in all the alarums and excursions later.
The Klemperer recording which has been the only one available until now was not particularly satisfactory, owing to the general sense of constriction, the restricted dynamic range and the string quality, which tended to sound starved just when it should have been most opulent. The present issue, except for a short patch in the finale where the engineers, not altogether surprisingly, seem to have feared for the safety of their equipment and have brought their fader down a notch or so, is remarkably well recorded, with particularly good balance and excellent quality. Adequately to contain Mahler’s vision of the heavens opening, with trumpets disposed to right and left, near and far, stereo at least is called for (and, in fact, the stereo version exists in America); but even in mono this does not overload. It is Walter’s interpretation, however, which is the real joy of this issue: not only is he more apocalyptic than Klemperer, but in the lyrical passages he brings far more grace to the music. The second subject of the opening movement, for example, has more Viennese charro, without, as in the previous recording, turning into mere goo at the recapitulation; the Landler flows more easily (what lovely singing tone from the ’cellos, incidentally!); and the Scherzo, which before seemed unduly protracted, is taken at a better speed and is more pointed rhythmically. Though one should not forget the wonderfully steady singing of Hilde Rössl-Majdan in the earlier set, the soloists and chorus here are very good, and complete the attraction of this admirable issue.
L.S., The Gramophone, June 1959
Notes on the recording:
As with other issues in this series of Bruno Walter's Mahler recordings, Pristine's 32-bit XR remastering system has succeeded in delving deep into the original recording to reveal new depths and new heights. Where previously the brass sounded perhaps a little veiled, now they can be heard in all their blazing glory. Meanwhile the choir opens out wonderfully, making previous issues sound perhaps a little strangled by comparison. Finally the full rumbling majesty of the lowest organ stops can be felt as well as heard to marvellous effect. The Gramophone's reviewer talks about an "apocalyptic" performance - now we can hear it in sound to match that artistic vision.
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