SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 8 in B Minor, D. 759 “Unfinished”; MAHLER: Symphony No. 1 in D Major – Bavarian State Orchestra/Bruno Walter – Orfeo

by | Sep 21, 2005 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 8 in B Minor, D. 759 “Unfinished”;
MAHLER: Symphony No. 1 in D Major – Bavarian State Orchestra/ Bruno
Walter

Orfeo mono C 562 021 B  72:43  (Distrib. Qualiton)****:

It must have been with a sense of both historical rectitude and poetic
justice that Bruno Walter (1876-1962) assumed the podium of the
Bavarian State Orchestra on 2 October 1950, since Walter had left
Munich in 1922, where the not-too-subtle sensibilities of anti-Semitism
proclaimed in the Volkische Beobachter that “Walter has no sense of, no
feeling for the German mentality.” The ensuing rise of National
Socialism forced Walter to flee Europe (via Paris) and to make his home
in California. But it was Georg Solti (nee Strern) who invited Walter
to lead the first Academy Concert of the 1950/1951 season at the ruins
of the Congress Hall of the German Museum, not far from the National
Theater, where makeshift wood and plaster halls and gray canvas still
covered areas devastated by Allied saturation bombing.

The entire program included Weber’s Euryanthe Overture, so perhaps
Orfeo will splice it to some other Walter compilation. What we do have
is a fiercely emotional rendering of Schubert’s B Minor Symphony,
coupled with the pantheistic mysticism of Walter’s beloved Mahler. The
Munich players are intent on playing their hearts out. The burnished
sound of Schubert’s strings, winds, and horns ranges from transparent
wistfulness to demonic possession. The performance forgives a universal
horror even as it grieves.

Was this the first Mahler in Germany since the Hitler reign of
terror?  The Wie ein Naturlaut of the first movement proclaims a
rebirth of positive energy and humanity for Germany, for Europe.
Trumpets, tremolando strings, harp, piping woodwinds–all conspire to
create the beautiful illusion of Nature serene in all its chaotic fury.
The Scherzo, impossibly, is yet more incendiary, with wicked attacks in
the horns and strings. The trio is Viennese to the point of whipped
cream. After the ironies, tender gestures, and vulgarities of Frere
Jacques (one step removed from Kurt Weill) we are hurled into spiritual
black holes and galactic spaces for a whirlwind final movement. Walter
brought this same aggressive energy to his New York Philharmonic
inscription (ML 4958) for CBS, a febrile ferocity I missed in his later
stereo reading made in Los Angeles. As it stands, however, this Munich
concert must count among the most robust, concentrated, and darkly
moving of Bruno Walter documents.

–Gary Lemco

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