A rare appearance by Bruno Walter in San Francisco makes a splendid impression in the Pristine incarnation.
Bruno Walter on The Standard Hour = WAGNER: Prelude from Parsifal; MOZART: Mass in c minor, K. 427: Et incarnates est; Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, K. 525; HAYDN: The Seasons: Oh, welcome now; Oh how pleasing to the senses; WEBER: Oberon Overture – Brunetta Mazzolini, sop./ San Francisco Sym. Orch./ Bruno Walter – Pristine Audio PASC 469, 55:47 [avail. in various versions from www.pristineclassical.com] ****:
Pristine’s restoration engineer and producer Andrew Rose grants us the rare opportunity to hear Bruno Walter (1876-1962) live in an Easter concert in San Francisco (18 April 1954) from the War Memorial Opera House, leading music – some new to the conductor’s discography – for the Standard Hour. The award-winning weekly program had been running since 1926, and this was its 1,410th edition on NBC radio. Walter brings with him the soprano, Brunetta Mazzolini to perform a concert of mixed orchestral favorites, with music by Wagner, Mozart, Haydn and Weber. Walter’s appearance here coincided with his scheduled performance of the Brahms A German Requiem in its San Francisco debut.
The spaciousness of the Parsifal Prelude befits the solemnity of the occasion, the opening six bars – the basis of the three developing themes – already revealing the suave rubato Walter could apply to intensify his elastic line. Wagner’s feeling that faith provides redemption infuses the music, whose pregnant pauses serve as contemplative Stations of the Cross. Walter’s deliberate care in shaping the motifs allows us to savor the competing keys, A-flat Major and c minor, whose tension suggests the doubt that must be overcome to achieve the Holy Grail. Unlike his later Los Angeles commercial inscriptions of Wagner and Bruckner, the tempo does not drag nor does the spirit of the music accrue hyper-sentimentality.
Curtis Institute graduate Brunetta Mazzolini remained a favorite of Bruno Walter, and her resume included her work as a college faculty instructor. Since Walter never recorded the Great Mass in c minor of Mozart, the inclusion of “Et incarnatus est” rewards us with its transparency of texture and devotional affection. Mazzolini’s bright, lyric soprano could easily be taken for the voice of Roberta Peters. Her melismas maintain their line and tonal solidity, the upward runs and trills naturally coloratura without strain. Her dialogue with selected woodwinds, high and low, easily satisfies our appreciation of the purely operatic fervor of this religious work. From Haydn’s The Seasons – another classic work otherwise undocumented in the Walter recorded legacy – Mazzolini sings in clear, diction-conscious English, affectionately rendered. The music includes much text-painting of Nature’s elements of summer and shepherds in the opening recitative. The second aria extends the pantheistic conceit, here a paean to the air spirit. With the thought that “the heart delight,” the music assumes a throbbing, dance tempo celebrating the “sweet enchanted wings” of transcendent, radiant joy.
The Weber Overture to Oberon marks another work Walter never set down in the recording studio. The light touch combined with a controlled intensity deliver a charming rendition, especially given the resonance and agility of the San Francisco strings. The contrapuntal elements sing as well as dance, with the woodwinds’ transparency urging the magical sensibility of whose expression Weber remains a past master. Generally, Bruno Walter’s live renditions of Mozart’s eternal Eine Kleine Nachtmusik tend to be more expressive and spontaneous than his sometimes turgid commercial realizations. This performance enjoys a virile nobility that remains warm and beguiling. Perhaps the most “notorious” of Walter’s performances of this work occurred in Paris, during which the powers-that-be decided to preserve this familiar piece and erase the Mahler Seventh he also rendered that day! The new sonic fidelity of the Pristine restoration proves nothing less than sensational, and it will my pleasure to program the concert rarities in Walter’s legacy on my own radio show.
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