BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 9 in d minor; R. STRAUSS: Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, Op. 28 – Philharmonic Sym. of New York/ Bruno Walter – Pristine PASC 446, 65:47 [avail. in several formats from www.pristineclassical.com] *****:
Restoration engineer and annotator Andrew Rose informs us that this 2 February 1950 Carnegie Hall performance by Bruno Walter (1876-1962) of the Bruckner Ninth derives from a private collector’s generosity. Bruno Walter set a rather consistently energetic tradition for his Bruckner performances, and we can hear great similarity of thought and design in his reading of almost exactly five years later – 10 February 1957 – at the same Carnegie Hall venue with this same orchestra. Walter utilized the composer’s written markings, working from an edition by Alfred Orel. Admittedly, Walter often emended the Scherzo more or less in consonance with the 1903 edition. The generally fast tempos make the later commercial work in Los Angeles seem sluggish, even timid. Olin Downes, reviewing the performance at the time, made no concessions to the various defects in the score, especially its sequential repetitions and dead-end periods. But Walter’s devotional commitment to Bruckner’s final symphony remains thoroughly focused, perhaps made all the more resonant because we have no further recorded documentation of Furtwangler’s evolved thoughts about this music after 1944.
The New York Philharmonic excellent response to Walter’s direction warrants comment, especially in the brass parts, which – say in James Chambers’ horn parts’ occasional intransigence under Mitropoulos – could otherwise have missed the incisive pageantry of the first movement and its secondary theme. The tympanic and brass flourishes in the Scherzo prove compelling, particularly as the strings and flute urge the laendler middle section as an idyllic foil to the demonism of the outer periods. The two colossal slow movements breathe with an immense fire and cultivated depth of thought. From the first, barely perceptible D of the first movement and its ‘flutters’ as allusions to Beethoven’s Ninth, to the various quotes of the ‘Dresden Amen’ and Parsifal in the Finale, Walter commands an epic vision of the work. What persists through the performance, Walter’s utter serenity of exposition, his security of craft, brings us within a sacred circle, a temenos, of Bruckner initiation.
From 26 December 1954 we have a charming complement to the Bruckner in the form of the Richard Strauss ironic legend of Till Eulenspiegel, a relative rarity in the Bruno Walter catalogue of recordings. Once more, the orchestral response captures our imaginative fancy, rife with acerbic wit in the woodwinds and strings. The rondo pokes irreverent, even scatological, fun at a series of middle-class sacred cows, especially the clergy. Unfortunately, some of the sonic definition suffers compromise in the tympani and brass parts, and so the effect remains cloudy. The first violin – likely John Corigliano – sounds eminently brash and youthful. And our dear Mr. Chambers in his French horn work convinces us of his estimable service to this score. Walter leads a reading that relishes the audacious orchestral effects, the pompous but masterful invention of a folk classic.