MOZART: The Pre-War Bruno Walter Recordings – Pristine Audio 

by | Jun 17, 2019 | Classical CD Reviews, Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

MOZART: The Pre-War Bruno Walter Recordings [Complete list of compositions below] – Pristine Audio PASC 564 (3 CDs) TT: 3 hrs 43:44 [www.pristineclassical. com] *****:

When Bruno Walter died in 1962, he bore the stamp – mostly established via CBS advertising – as “the conductor of humanity,” the genial, paternal guardian of the Great German Romantic Tradition, whose slow tempos and rich instrumental detail bespoke a lengthy experience in music that extended from Mozart and Haydn – through Beethoven, Weber, Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Brahms – to Wagner, Mahler, and Bruckner. The 1991 EMI set devoted to the pre-war recordings of Mozart did, despite their limited sound quality, disabuse us of some of our illusions, when Walter would apply a tempestuous speed to a Mozart overture. And we heard in the Concerto No. 20 a pianist of no mean refinement, whom Pablo Casals both lamented and berated for his not having maintained his early virtuoso technique, a career Walter courted long before opera and orchestral conducting commanded his attentions.

Mark Obert-Thorn here for Pristine restores all of Walter’s pre-war Mozart, here in much improved sound over the tinny and over-resonant originals.  The series of opening overtures and dances reveals an energized and affectionate approach to Mozart that sees him strutting with vigor, frothy elan, and wit. The warmth in Walter’s Mozart often derives from subtle inflections of tempo and slight exaggerations in the meter.  Yet the directness and linear motion of the singing line do not become victims of an immense musical ego, a la Mengelberg. The brisk fluency in, say, the Overture to Die Zauberfloete retains an Italian lyricism that no less exudes that Masonic spirit innate in Mozart’s drama. We feel that the Piano Concerto would benefit from the Beethoven cadenzas rather than those of Carl Reinecke, for the simple lack of turbulent drama that this sturm und drang concerto emanates.  Still for lyric propulsion and a balanced sense of ensemble, particularly in the lovely Romanza, we feel Mozart has been well served.

The Mozart “Prague” Symphony under Walter has always held me spellbound for its liquid ease of transition and deft adjustments of colors and dynamics.  Mozart truly found a sister city in Prague, and this music drips with crisp rhythmic pulse and soaring, melodic affection, especially in the realization by the VPO strings and winds. The bounce and earthy energy in Mozart’s counterpoint could hardly find a healthier, more athletically alert interpreter er  Walter.  Of Walter’s Mozart, assistant New York Philharmonic conductor Stefan Bauer-Mengelberg said, “While he could be the most naïve man I ever knew, I worshipped the musical ground he walked upon.” The marvelous chromatic line of the G Major Andante enjoys a resonant aristocracy of spirit. The VPO wind choir frolics with brilliant alacrity – especially the flute part and potent bass fiddles – in the Finale (Presto) that keeps feet and hearts in perpetual flutter.

Disc two presents us the great, last triptych of Mozart symphonies, beginning with Walter’s disarmingly heavy Adagio that begins the E-flat Symphony with the BBC.  For stateliness of approach, I will continue to champion the Furtwaengler rendition, but the agonizing, passing dissonances in these first three minutes from Walter set a haunted, valedictory tone. The Allegro develops at first slowly then rockets upward in ardent figures whose resonance does not equal the sheen from Vienna. The paired clarinets offer their own luster. The Andante con moto moves with a solemn, motivic vigor.  Walter enhances the lyrical episodes with chorale quality. The Austrian laendler of the minuet retains its bucolic character under Walter, clearly less tragic in tone than Furtwaengler’s version.  The clarinet-flute duet in the trio section enjoys a thoroughly rustic persuasiveness, despite distant sonics. The monothematic Finale (Allegro) basks in its kaleidoscope of permutations of color and dynamic balances.  Nothing slow or tentative Walter’s tempos, despite the pressure on the BBC winds to produce clear, fluid, and dexterous tones.

Portrait of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Wolfgang Amadeua Mozart

Walter claims in his Of Music and Music-Making that no conductor under 50 has the experience to lead a performance of the G minor Symphony.  Walter’s tempo for the opening movement, Allegro molto – Andante appears to wear the tragic veil on its sleeve. So, too, the constant pulse of the second movement Andante, moves in the violas and high violins with stealth rather than resolve. The chromatic line has a passion we might associate with Gesualdo.  The accented Menuetto & Trio in G minor extends the tragic muse.  The Berlin State Opera strings and winds combine in dire counterpoint that belies any sense of courtly or rustic delights. The Trio in G Major affords some relief, but while it may laugh, it smiles no more. Walter urges the turbulence of the Finale (Allegro assai) without compromise. Whatever lyric character the music possesses finds itself rushed to grim judgment. The sheer virtuosity of the polyphonic writing makes us admire the BSO for its level of execution. Only such Classical procedures certify that this anguished music from Mozart has any relation to the dictates of his era’s aesthetic.

When it comes to virtuosic realizations of the Jupiter Symphony, few can stand comparison to the Albert Coates version for speed and demonism.  Walter shines a bright but sane light on Mozart’s infinite capacity for contrapuntal invention.  The VPO strings and brass sections prove especially striking and fluent.  The thoughtful Andante conveys its own poise, rife with interior, soaring voices, molded with elegant care. One contemporary critic of the shellacs celebrated the Menuetto for its “Vienna pomp.”  The sense of aristocratic buoyancy glows with spiritual serenity in the rightness of its musical means. For the ever-miraculous last movement, Molto Allegro, Walter invites the plastic counterpoints with warm appreciation for their ceremony and limitless ingenuity. A stately self-possession inhabits every measure, the brisk spirit of invention literally announcing its kinship with the Divine.  Bauer-Mengelberg recalled for me a Walter performance on a rainy New York Friday night, the audience of old people from various care facilities, “the menopause crowd,” that barely inspired the Philharmonic players. Yet, at the last pages, the performance suddenly inflamed, thunderclap struck, impelling Bauer-Mengelberg to shout at the on-stage Walter, “Jupiter himself has responded to your call!”

Disc 3 brings to light the first-ever recording of the Mozart Requiem, a document Walter suppressed for what seems minor technical deficiencies.  The Vienna Philharmonic had been on tour for the Paris Exposition of 1937; and it serves no small coincidence that Paris became a Walter refuge after the Anschluss. French HMV captured the performance right through to the audience applause. Walter treats this music as a devotional extension of the Church liturgy, avoiding the “personal confession” or “Mozart’s life’s farewell” sensibility.  Stellar vocalists participate in this performance, particularly tenor Anton Dermota, who would join Walter in his final performance (1956) of the music in Salzburg.  We might find fault in the tone of Vienna Chorus soprano line, but the full-bodied invocation of the Kyrie Eleison, supported by massive forces in string basses and tympani, quite overpowers us.  The Dies Irae assaults us with driven force in the syncopations in the strings. The Tuba mirum allows us to savor the special color of Alexander Kipnis’ bass voice, the same Fritz Reiner sought for his concert versions of Boris Gudonov. Elisaberg Schumann commands the top line of the vocal quartet, and Kerstin Thorborg’s resonant mezzo had served Walter for his classic Mahler Song of the Earth with Charles Kullman.  The Confutatis projects a spiritual tension, a taut, jarring juxtaposition of male and female pleas for some human understanding of mortality.  The eternal Lacrimosa likely justifies any collector’s gravitation to this historic restoration.  The passionate, even brutal, counterpoints of the Domine Jesu lead to the relative optimism of the Hostias.  Walter consistently had a powerful sway with the fugal writing of the words of The Law, Quam olim Abrahae. We can well appreciate the quality of Schumann’s voice in  her solo, “Let everlasting light shine upon them” from the Communion, the major key’s glorifying the music that began the Requiem proper.  A noble sense of closure marks this restored performance, a grand gesture from all participants, including its committed devotees of musical history.

—Gary Lemco

MOZART: The Pre-War Bruno Walter Recordings =
Die Zauberfloete, Overture, K. 620
Le nozze di Figaro, Overture, K. 492; La finta giardiniera, Overture, K. 196
La Clemenza di Tito, Overture, K. 621
Three German Dances, K. 605
Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K. 466
Symphony No. 38 in D Major, K. 504 “Prague”
Symphony No. 39 in E-flat Major, K. 543
Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K. 550
Symphony No. 41 in C Major, K. 551 “Jupiter”
Serenade No. 13 in G Major, K. 525 “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik”
Requiem in D minor, K. 626

Bruno Walter, piano and conductor
Elisabeth Schumann, soprano/ Kerstin Thorberg, mezzo-soprano/ Anton Dermota, tenor/ Alexander Kipnis, bass/ Vienna State Opera Chorus/
Mozart Festival Orchestra
British Symphony Orchestra
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Berlin State Orchestra





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