Opus Kura OPK 2054, 59:23 (Distrib. Albany) ****:
From a rather volatile period in the life of Bruno Walter (1886-1962), we have restorations of the records he made at the end of his Viennese sojourn just before and in flight from the Nazi annexation of Austria, 1936-1938. To wit, the inscription of La Clemanza di Tito Overture is the very last piece Walter inscribed prior to his move to London and finally to America. Relatively noise-free, the shellacs pour forth a stream of high velocity music-making, the strings and winds vibrant. The light-footed Overture to La finta giardiniera suffers more surface noise, but the Mannheim elements bubble with frothy good nature.
The Haydn D Major Symphony under Walter (1936) is a work we must accept in this version, since the conductor did not approach it again in the recording studio later in his LA career. Despite the athletic vigor of the piece. Only a few major conductors added it to their discography; only Schuricht, Ansermet, and Dorati come to mind. Walter urges aggressive speed in the crescendi of the Allegro spiritoso, the strings and tympani competing in fine fettle. Some romantic ritardandi infiltrate this breezy rendition. Nice flute work in the development section. The expansive Capriccio: Largo keeps a rustic bass line even as the expressive melody extends upward. The sudden bursts of dark energy would have appealed to Mahler. More aristocratic rusticity, if the paradox works, for the Minuet and Trio, where a gentle soul takes delight in this world. The finale is a blaze of torrential energy, witty and pungent, the musical gloves off, the staccato figures are Walter’s own answer to fascists’ machine guns.
Walter’s Brahms recordings remain a staple of German Romantic interpretation, a warm and natural series of readings largely unaffected by soulful angst. Even the major/minor disjunctions in the opening of the Brahms Third (1936) do not cause Walter to linger inordinately over pregnant phrases; he keeps the opening movement moving immediately after the initial upbeat to the main theme. No repeat. Plenty of tempo variation indicates that Walter is no literalist. The French horn rolls out persuasively for the gradual transition to the recapitulation. Nice work between flute, celli, and oboe. I have always savored Walter’s determined way with the Andante movement, its rugged force and melancholy mysticism.
Exceptional woodwind choir work carries the central part of the movement forward; and in spite of perpetual surface hiss, the sonority of winds and horns remains compelling. Walter takes the Poco allegretto at a relatively brisk pace, but the big horn restatement of the theme achieves a round line. Robert Mitchum and Brahms? I remember their unlikely meeting in the film Undercurrent, with Katherine Hepburn. The last movement Walter plays for its uneasy balance of dynamism and menace. Some crackle and shatter at cadence ends in this transfer. The splice to the cello entry and the later flute reveals some fine sonorities in these old shellacs. The counterpoint, with its Beethoven Fifth allusions, captures a grunt or two from Walter, and some hearty, colossal momentum. The rush to judgment dissolves in lyric outpourings and staggered pulsations and pizzicati, with Walter’s allowing wisps of tender memories to waft sporadically into the shimmering distance.