WALTER Rarities: American Columbia Recordings (1941-55) - PASC452

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WALTER Rarities: American Columbia Recordings (1941-55) - PASC452

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MOZART  Symphony No. 41, ‘Jupiter’
Symphony No. 5
Symphony No. 8, ‘Unfinished’
J. STRAUSS II Emperor Waltz
Song of Destiny
DVOŘÁK  Symphony No. 8

Producer and Audio Restoration Engineer: Mark Obert-Thorn
Total duration: 2hr 18:46

Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York
The Philadelphia Orchestra
Columbia Symphony Orchestra
Bruno Walter, conductor

This set contains the following albums:

A double-CD collection of some of Bruno Walter's rarest recordings

"All collectors of great historic performances owe it to themselves to acquire this set for the Dvořák in particular; highly recommended" - Fanfare

This collection brings together eight recordings by Bruno Walter which have seen scant, if any, availability in the CD era.  All stem from studio sessions for US Columbia, and range from among his earliest recordings in America (Brahms) to one of his last of the pre-stereo era (Schubert 5th).  Some have seen limited CD reissue by Sony in France and Japan (Schubert 8th, Dvořák) or Japan only (Brahms), while the remainder have never had an “official” CD release.  Two of the recordings (Schubert 5th, Così Overture) have apparently never even had an unofficial CD release on independent labels.

The reasons for the unavailability of these recordings generally involve remakes in improved sound.  The Mozart Jupiter and Così Overture, both stemming from the same 1945 session, are a case in point.  This was the second of four commercial recordings Walter would make of the symphony; he had previously recorded it with the Vienna Philharmonic, and would go on to remake it with the New York Philharmonic on tape in 1956, and with the (West Coast) Columbia Symphony Orchestra in stereo in 1960.  While the latter two have stayed intermittently in the catalog, this earlier version was forgotten.  This recording of the Così Overture was Walter’s first, but he would go on to remake it in mono with the East Coast CoSO in 1954, then with their West Coast counterpart in stereo in 1960.

Similarly, the mono 1955 Schubert Fifth with the East Coast CoSO, another first Walter recording, was replaced five years later with a stereo West Coast version.  The Strauss waltz was one more item which Walter had previously recorded in Vienna.  He would go on to remake it yet again with the New York CoSO in 1956, and that has been the one reissued ever since.

The Schubert Unfinished is one of only two commercial recordings Walter made with the Philadelphia Orchestra.  (The other, Beethoven’s Pastoral, is available on Pristine PASC 067.)  Another item originally recorded in Vienna, it was remade with the New York Philharmonic in stereo in 1958.  The Mendelssohn Scherzo is the only item on the program which only exists in a single recording.  It was made at the same session as the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto with Milstein and Walter as the set’s filler side. 

The Brahms Schicksalslied, sung here in English, was recorded at Walter’s third session with the Philharmonic held during the first year he recorded with them, 1941.  Its dour message (“[W]e have been fated/To find no rest here on earth/They vanish, they falter/Our suffering brothers”) may have been programmed by Walter in sympathy with the innocent victims caught up in the wars raging in Europe and Asia; but it found a new resonance at this session, held eight days after the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Walter would remake the work in stereo in Los Angeles in 1961.

The final recording was Walter’s first of two versions of the Dvořák Eighth.  He would go on to remake it in stereo with the West Coast CoSO in 1961, but would not eclipse the tremendous vitality of this electrifying version.

Mark Obert-Thorn

  • MOZART:  Symphony No. 41 in C major, K.551 ‘Jupiter’          
    Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York
    Recorded 23 January 1945 in Carnegie Hall, New York
    Matrix nos.:  XCO-34181/7
    First issued on Columbia 12070/3-D in album M-565


  • MOZART:  Così fan tutte, K.588 – Overture
    Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York
    Recorded 23 January 1945 in Carnegie Hall, New York
    Matrix nos.:  XCO-34188
    First issued on Columbia 12073-D in album M-565

  • SCHUBERT:  Symphony No. 5 in B flat, D.485
    Columbia Symphony Orchestra
    Recorded 5, 6 & 8 October 1955 in the Columbia 30th Street Studios, New York
    First issued on Columbia ML-5156

  • J. STRAUSS II:  Emperor Waltz, Op. 437
    Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York
    Recorded 18 April 1942 in Liederkranz Hall, New York
    Matrix nos.:  XCO-32733/4
    First issued on Columbia 11854-D


  • SCHUBERT:  Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D.759 ‘Unfinished’
    The Philadelphia Orchestra
    Recorded 2 March 1947 in the Academy of Music, Philadelphia
    Matrix nos.:  XCO-37428/33
    First issued on Columbia 12639/41-D in album MM-699


  • MENDELSSOHN:  A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Op. 61 – Scherzo
    Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York
    Recorded 16 May 1945 in Carnegie Hall, New York
    Matrix no.:  XCO-34746
    First issued on Columbia 12145-D in album M-577

  • BRAHMS:  Song of Destiny (Schicksalslied), Op. 54
    Westminster Choir (John Finley Williamson, director)

    Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York
    Recorded 15 December 1941 in Liederkranz Hall, New York
    Matrix nos.:  XCO-32178/90
    First issued on Columbia 11801/2-D in album X-223


  • DVOŘÁK:  Symphony No. 8 in G major, Op. 88
    Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York
    Recorded 28 November 1947 in Carnegie Hall, New York
    Matrix nos.:  XCO-39465/72
    First issued on Columbia 12883/6-D in album M-770


    Bruno Walter (conductor)


Ihr wandelt droben im Licht
Auf weichem Boden, selige Genien!
Glänzende Götterlüfte
Rühren euch leicht,
Wie die Finger der Künstlerin
Heilige Saiten.

Schicksallos, wie der schlafende
Säugling, atmen die Himmlischen;
Keusch bewahrt
In bescheidener Knospe,
Blühet ewig
Ihnen der Geist,
Und die seligen Augen
Blicken in stiller
Ewiger Klarheit.

Doch uns ist gegeben,
Auf keiner Stätte zu ruhn,
Es schwinden, es fallen
Die leidenden Menschen
Blindlings von einer
Stunde zur andern,
Wie Wasser von Klippe
Zu Klippe geworfen,
Jahr lang ins Ungewisse hinab.

Friedrich Hölderlin

Fanfare Review

The best is saved for last here, in the form of an absolutely crackerjack performance of the Dvořák Eighth Symphony

Once again, doughty Pristine Audio bravely steps into the breach to fill in a gaping hole in the discography of famous performances that the holders of the original recordings have failed to address. In this case, we are provided with superior transfers of wartime and post-war Columbias by Bruno Walter that did not make it into either Sony’s Bruno Walter Edition or any of its other domestic issues of Walter recordings. Foreign releases of these renditions have been spotty or non-existent; indeed, two items (the Così fan tutte Overture and the Schubert Fifth Symphony) make their debuts on CD here. Since Walter rerecorded all of these works except for the Mendelssohn MSND Scherzo in stereo (the omission of that from the BW Edition being a strange oversight), reissuance of these recordings was evidently not seen by Sony as either a necessity or a priority. Also, with one very significant exception, Walter made superior recordings of the four symphonies included in this set, and so there has not been a pent-up demand among collectors (apart from die-hard Walterians such as myself) for their renewed availability either. Pristine Audio is therefore all the more to be commended for its intrepid endeavors to restore worthwhile materials to a limited audience.

Among Mozart’s last six symphonies, the Symphony No. 41 is unique in Walter’s discography in two ways: Of the last four, it is the only one of which he made four rather than three studio recordings, and it is the only one of the six for which there is no surviving live performance for comparison. This 1945 recording, the second of the quartet, was dropped from Columbia’s catalog once Walter re-waxed the work with the New York Philharmonic in 1956; it did appear on a long out-of-print CD on the defunct Lys label (LYS 338), along with the Mendelssohn MSND Scherzo likewise included in this set. It is also the briskest of the four, being marginally faster than his 1938 account with the Vienna Philharmonic, most notably in the finale. The 1956 version is slower by a good half-minute in each movement but the Minuet, and the 1960 stereo version with the Columbia Symphony adds about another half-minute more to all four movements. Consequently, this earlier performance (which also sounds as if it may have used a reduced string section), while hardly HIP influenced, is more in line with current tastes for leaner, more lithe Mozart and is of not inconsiderable interest. I would still rank it behind Walter’s other efforts, however. The New York Philharmonic in 1945 does not have the lovely tonal sheen of the (very well recorded) Vienna Philharmonic, though it outpoints the Europeans in the fugal finale; the 1956 performance (my overall first choice) has far better recorded sound and more stylishly crisp and powerful playing; while the 1960 studio account, if somewhat slow and beefy by today’s standards, has a stupendous account of the finale that makes it a must-have. This transfer is far superior to the previous Lys issue, having much greater body and warmth.

The Così fan tutte Overture was a filler side in the original 78-rpm issue of the “Jupiter”; it also briefly appeared in an extremely rare three-disc 45-rpm set as a filler to Walter’s 1950 recording of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Again, there are three other studio accounts—a 1924 Berlin acoustic, a 1954 remake with the New York Philharmonic, and a 1961 stereo version with the Columbia Symphony—plus a live 1954 New York Philharmonic broadcast. Leaving aside the sonically outdated acoustic rendition and the (as always) somewhat slower stereo account, the middle three recordings are interpretively almost identical, with the 1954 studio version having the edge sonically. But, no matter which recording one chooses of either the symphony or the overture, one is treated to Walter’s uniquely winsome and humane way with Mozart, with its nonpareil combination of warm lyricism, vigorous heft, and good humor.

As noted above, this is the first appearance on CD of this 1955 account of the Schubert Fifth, a work Walter recorded in stereo with the West Coast version of the Columbia Symphony in 1960, as distinct from this earlier East Coast ensemble comprised mostly of a stripped-down New York Philharmonic. (There is also a live 1940 broadcast with the NBC Symphony in dry, constricted Studio 8-H sound.) Walter’s Schubert was of a piece with his Mozart in its unapologetic, full-blooded Romanticism that never fell prey to distensions of the melodic line or gauche ritardandos. The two studio versions are virtually identical in the first three movements, with the stereo version having the edge for its warmer, richer sound; however, the finale of the monaural account is appreciatively faster (5:54 vs. 6:21), whereas the later stereo version comes off as a bit sluggish. If between the two the stereo account still gets the nod overall, the restoration of the earlier account is a valuable corrective and supplement to that version that fully warrants its return to the active catalog.

The evergreen Kaiserwaltz of Johann Strauss, Jr., my absolute favorite of all his waltzes, was apparently Walter’s favorite as well, for it is the only Strauss waltz of which he made three studio recordings (there are also hat tricks for the Overtures to Die Fledermaus and Der Zigeunerbaron), supplemented by a 1944 New York Philharmonic broadcast account. This one-off effort from 1942 was previously issued on a Smithsonian Collection CD (RD 103-7 / A-24739). If Walter’s final studio version from 1956 again holds the sonic edge, this is arguably a superior account interpretively, with all the Viennese lilt one could possibly desire.

The second disc opens with Walter’s 1947 recording of the Schubert “Unfinished.” Of the works featured in this set, this has by far the most generous representation in Walter’s discography: three studio recordings, with the Vienna Philharmonic (1936), the Philadelphia Orchestra (1947), and the New York Philharmonic (1960), plus live broadcasts with the New York Philharmonic (1942, 1945, and 1960, the first two circulating privately and the third issued on Wing WCD27 in Japan and long out of print), the Bavarian State Orchestra (1950, released by Orfeo), the Chicago Symphony (1958, issued by that orchestra in a Collector’s Choice edition), and the Vienna Philharmonic (1960, on Music & Arts). The 1947 rendition released here by Pristine—along with an account of Beethoven’s “Pastorale,” one of only two commercial recordings Walter made with the “fabulous Philadelphians”—was issued by Sony, but only in France (5081742), in a pairing with the Dvořák Eighth Symphony also included here. As usual, the late performances, postdating Walter’s March 1957 heart attack, are significantly broader in their tempos—e.g., 10:21 / 12:07 vs. 10:57 / 13:53 for the two movements of the 1947 and 1960 studio accounts, respectively. For a balance between interpretive and sonic factors, the three most desirable accounts are these two later studio versions and the unusually taut (for Walter) 1950 Munich performance. As all three are excellent, and captured in good sound for their respective dates, a choice between them is largely subjective: The Munich account offers incisive drama and the New York one beautifully sustained autumnal songfulness, with that from Philadelphia occupying a happy medium.

As noted above, the Mendelssohn Scherzo is unique to Walter’s studio discography, though a 1948 New York Philharmonic broadcast account has also been released on LP and CD by the NYP and Music & Arts. It was originally a filler side to the 78-rpm release of the fabled recording of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto that Walter made with Nathan Milstein, which enjoyed the signal honor of being the first recording ever to be issued on LP. (In 1998 Sony issued a special promotional reproduction of that LP on CD: SSK 5770.) The performance is a delight, and as with the aforementioned “Jupiter” Symphony once again this Pristine transfer is far superior to its CD predecessor from Lys.

The Brahms Song of Destiny—sung in English, hence that title rather than the original German Schicksalslied—is a particular Walter rarity for an unusual reason. Originally recorded on December 15, 1941—with pointed symbolic reference to the attack on Pearl Harbor eight days before—it was issued on LP (numbered SL 156) as a filler to Walter’s first studio recording of the Beethoven Ninth, on the flip side of the disc containing the finale. However, Walter was dissatisfied with the finale of the Beethoven, and seized an opportunity to rerecord just that movement in 1953. Columbia then offered to exchange the new version of the Ninth (numbered SL 186), paired instead with Walter’s 1942 recording of Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony, for free to anyone who sent back in his or her copy of the old version, and so significantly fewer copies of the Brahms have survived as a result. In his NYP discography, fellow Fanfare critic James H. North notes a previous ultra-scarce Japanese Sony issue (SRCR-8733), of which I can find no other trace, so presumably that is long out of print and this is the only available issue. The English-language text is available on Pristine’s web site.

The best is saved for last here, in the form of an absolutely crackerjack performance of the Dvořák Eighth Symphony. While Walter would go on to record a warmly genial, gemütlich account in stereo in 1961, many listeners may be surprised at this 1947 performance, which positively bristles with the kind of restless, febrile energy and energetic thrust associated instead with Toscanini. Married as that is to Walter’s trademark lyricism of the singing line and robust, full-bodied orchestral palette, the result is a singularly striking and compelling rendition that stays long in the memory. (There is also a superlative broadcast account with the New York Philharmonic dating from February 1948, two months after this studio recording. Interpretively it is perhaps my favorite of Walter’s three renditions; it is preserved from acetate discs in tolerable sound, but sonically it does not compete with either of the two studio versions.)

As with the Schubert “Unfinished” discmate that was also on the French Sony issue, restoration engineer Mark Obert-Thorn has left in more LP surface noise in the Dvořák than did Sony. A choice between the two transfers is a matter of taste; while I welcome the quieter background and less prominent treble of the Sony release, I also find on repeated hearings that Obert-Thorn’s approach has left in more instrumental color, which gives the Schubert in particular a greater sense of drama and animation. Much the same careful and intelligent approach has been taken to the other transfers throughout, always to the benefit of the performances. Pristine’s cover art for this issue is exceptionally striking and attractive. While the primary appeal of this set may indeed be to committed Walterians, all collectors of great historic performances owe it to themselves to acquire this set for the Dvořák in particular; highly recommended.

James A. Altena  

This article originally appeared in Issue 39:4 (Mar/Apr 2016) of Fanfare Magazine.