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Bruno Walter

Bruno Walter


Contents of this page:

  • Walter and Beethoven
  • Walter and Mahler
  • Laundry list of recommendations
  • The Indian summer: recommended recordings
  • For more information:

  • Andante.com's Bruno Walter pages
  • Audio bibliography (Masayosci Takemoto; partial audio discography along with citations of interview and rehearsal excerpts available on CD)
  • Bruno Walter discography (James Altena, Steven Reveyoso, and Erik Ryding)
  • Bruno Walter Memorial Foundation
  • Sony Classical (biography & discography of Columbia reissues)

  • Posted to: rec.music.classical.recordings
    Subject: Re: Bruno Walter's Beethoven
    Date: Mon, 19 May 1997

    Felix Joseph Bronstein wrote:
    Any opinions on this little discussed topic ?

    If you're talking about his stereo cycle of Beethoven symphonies with the Columbia Symphony, it's been discussed a few times here before. To my ears, the series is disappointingly uneven, with some inspired conducting marred by the presence of a pick-up orchestra. I do love a number of recordings in this series, though my favorites are probably not the same as those of others in this NG -- his discs of the 2nd, 4th, and 7th lead the pack for me.

    There is another cycle (basically complete) that he did in mono for Columbia, mostly with the New York Philharmonic, with a 6th recorded with the Philadelphia Orchestra. As with many earlier Walter recordings, tempos tend towards the quicker side, and the interpretations tend to have a bit more edge, perhaps a bit less lyricism. I prefer the 6th in this series to the stereo remake, and vastly prefer his taut 9th in this series to the rather lax stereo 9th in the later series.

    In addition to these, there is also at least one prewar recording (Vienna PO, 1930's, Beethoven 6th -- I'm not particularly fond of this one, but it does have its adherents), and any number of live broadcasts available. Among those, I'd make the case for a disc that he made of the "Eroica" Symphony with the Symphony of the Air. That came from a concert given in tribute to Toscanini, after his passing (the Symphony of the Air was the reassigned name for Toscanini's NBC Symphony). It amazes me how Toscanini's orchestra can sound so different in a different conductor's hands, and the performance strikes me as being moving throughout, and superior to his stereo remake. It's available on a Music and Arts CD.

    In addition to these, there are some overture recordings: I particularly like the prewar EMI disc of a VPO Leonore #3, on various labels, and Sony reissues of a powerhouse "Coriolan" Overture and a dramatic NYPO "Egmont" Overture. There are several recordings of the Violin Concerto -- I most prefer his prewar set with the British SO and Joseph Szigeti soloing. A few piano concerto recordings exist too, but apart from a prewar "Emperor" with Walter Gieseking, none of them particularly move me. I don't know if there's a complete Fidelio or Missa Solemnis in existence, though I'd be eminently curious if there were! (The story goes that at a Danish SO performance of the Missa Solemnis, the solo work in the Benedictus of concertmaster Adolf Busch moved Walter to tears -- I'm curious what this sounded like.)

    Hope that's a helpful start.

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    Posted to: rec.music.classical.recordings
    Subject: Walter and Mahler
    Date: Wed, 19 Jul 1995

    Benny Lo writes:
    Can someone please tell me which recording of Mahler's symphonies made by Bruno Walter was/were good. Also, are they mono recordings?

    Off the top of my head:

  • Symphony #1
    There are at least two studio recordings that exist. The stereo effort with the Columbia SO is the one I imprinted on, though it has no shortage of deficiencies. It's been reissued in various forms, including a budget 2-CD Odyssey set and in Sony's Walter Edition on 2 CD's at mid-price (both coupled with the 2nd). There is an earlier mono effort with the New York PO which Columbia has issued on LP but never on CD, which is utterly electrifying by comparison, and worth hearing, but hard to find.

  • Symphony #2
    The only one I know is the stereo CBS recording, available as above. It's very good, if Walter's relatively restrained style is what you're looking for.

  • Symphony #4
    There is a studio recording from Walter's mono days at CBS, with the NYPO and Desi Halban soloing; I don't know this one, though I think it is due out in the Walter Edition. Live discs with the Vienna PO are extant as well, including a Salzburg Festival performance from 1950 with soprano Irmgard Seefried and Walter's final appearance with the VPO, in 1960, and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. I marginally prefer the Salzburg performance for a better recording, and a slightly freer performance (it captures much of what I perceive to be the Viennese charm of the work). Seefried, sadly, must have been having a bad night that night; she's less than heavenly to these ears. The Seefried is on Vanguard; the Schwarzkopf on Music & Arts.

  • Symphony #5
    One recording, in mono, with the New York PO, is available in the Walter Edition. This is a very fine recording, again in the restrained, smoother style that is typical of Walter's art. It's a nice counterbalance to, say, Leonard Bernstein's hysterical (but no less necessary) excesses on CBS and DG. Walter also recorded the Adagietto to the 5th separately, with the Vienna PO, in his last recording sessions with that orchestra before he fled with the coming Anschluss, in 1938. It's poignant and heartbreaking to hear, but not necessarily to be sought out for its own sake.

  • Symphony #9
    In January of 1938, Walter gave his last concert with the Vienna PO before the aforementioned departure. It was Mahler's 9th, and it's been reissued (mono recording, 78 rpm surface noise) on EMI and Pearl. To these ears, it's the most touching of Walter's recordings; the orchestra, after all, had many members who had performed under Mahler *and* Walter, and they all realized that the same orchestra would not be playing under this beloved conductor of theirs again. Poignant, and well worth listening through poor sound to hear.

    There was a stereo effort with the Columbia SO after this (possibly a NYPO recording, too; I don't recall). The stereo remake has been reissued in the Walter Edition, along with excerpts from an interview with Walter and tidbits from a rehearsal. I personally am not overwhelmed by this performance; the music for me calls for over-the-top shrieking hysterics, and Walter simply doesn't deliver this here (or the orchestra, much of which was playing this music for the first time, was not prepared to deliver it for him).

  • Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen
    I know of a stereo recording on CBS, with the Columbia SO and contralto Mildred Miller. It's not bad, though you can do better.

  • Kindertotenlieder and Rueckert Lieder
    Walter had a number of proteges of his own, the most memorable of whom was the British contralto Kathleen Ferrier, who was blessed with a deep, rich voice that moved many a listener to hopeless tears. Ferrier worked extensively in her all-to-short career with Walter, and developed into one of the great Mahler singers of the century. There are a number of memorable documents of her work with Walter, including a peerless Kindertotenlieder with the Vienna PO in mono 78 rpm-inflected sound on EMI and assorted Rueckert Lieder, I think with the postwar Vienna PO, on Music & Arts.

  • Das Lied von der Erde
    This work strikes me as being dearer to Walter's heart than any other work. Walter worked closely with his teacher during the composition of the work, and conducted its world premiere performance, along with its first recording on disc. It can be argued that Walter again indulges his habit of smoothing away the rough edges, perhaps to a fault, but his lovingly attentive conducting makes his interpretations strongly worth considering.

    We begin with a 1936 recording which was made with the Vienna PO, alto Kerstin Thorborg, and tenor Charles Kullmann. It's a fine recording, with memorable soloing from Thorborg, the finest tenor soloist Walter had in this work in Kullmann, and idiomatic playing from the Vienna PO. (However, there is one preference in my book.) It has been reissued in various incarnations, including a Music & Arts (or is it Pearl?) disc coupled with the Anschluss recording of the Adagietto to the 5th.

    Walter made a studio recording with the New York PO, and several pirate issues exist of concert performances with same. To my mind, neither the studio issue (Walter Edition, CBS) nor the live performances (final NYPO appearance, Richard Lewis and Maureen Forrester, M&A) are worth serious consideration, not because the performances aren't good (they are), but because the playing of the Vienna PO is so completely in a different league as to eliminate the NYPO, good as it is, by comparison.

    Which leads us to what I consider as the quintessential Walter recording of Mahler. It's the London recording with the Vienna PO of the 1950's (mono recording), and soloists Julius Patzak and Kathleen Ferrier. The orchestra plays with an incredibly broad range of color and mood, and the sound captures the near-chamber-music intimacy of Mahler's scoring in grand style. Patzak seems to be screeching near the top of his range in many a moment, but for Ferrier's singing, particularly in a heart-breaking Abschied, this is a Lied von der Erde to treasure.

  • All corrections welcome. Hope this helps.

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    Posted to: rec.music.classical.recordings
    Subject: Re: Bruno Walter Suggestions
    Date: Wed, 16 Oct 1996

    D Stephen Heersink asked:
    I certainly would appreciate any suggestions by audiophiles who have heard and enjoy a Bruno Walter recording. Let me begin with the Dvorak Symphonies 8 and 9.

    Mike Willis in Australia responded:
    I'd also add Walter's Beethoven 6,4,1,2 (sort of in that order), with Colombia SO, his Colombia SO Bruckner 9 (rather than the somewhat severe 7 and 4), his Vienna PO live Bruckner 9 on a varietry of labels, and his Wagner Walkure Act one on Emi / Toshiba in Hong Kong, and his Brahms cycle with Colombia SO, particularly symphonies 1 and 3. Grammofono 2000 have a variety of early Walter recordings from as early as the l920s, and some of these are worth hearing. They suggest a more volatile, but also more wayward guide to the classics than the later maestro. I also have a soft spot for his Mozart with Colombia SO - symphonies and overtures.

    I have the same soft spot, for the last six symphonies in a stereo set with the Columbia SO on Odyssey. The Walter Edition stuff are mono performances which are a bit more strident and harsh to my ears, though there is a fascinating disc with rehearsals of 36 which is at least worth hearing.

    I'm of a different mind as far as his Beethoven and Bruckner are concerned. I've always been disappointed by Walter's Beethoven 6th recordings; he never did seem to get an orchestra that responded to his needs here. Still, those discs of the 4th, 1st, and 2nd are wonderful, as are a spirited if slow 7th, a 3rd given with the Symphony of the Air at a tribute concert for Toscanini and the monophonic New York Beethoven 9th, though these are harder to find. I also enjoy his Bruckner 4, especially for the hushed, spiritual excitement of the opening and a Viennese grace in the slow movement.

    Some personal faves:

  • Beethoven: Violin Concerto; Joseph Szigeti, British SO (1932, var incl Pearl)
  • Beethoven: Coriolan Overture; Columbia SO (c.1960)
  • Beethoven: Egmont Overture; New York PO (c.1949, Walter Edition)
  • Beethoven: Leonore Overture #3; Vienna PO (1936, various)
  • Beethoven: Symphonies 1, 2, 4, and 7; Columbia SO (late '50s-early '60s)
  • Beethoven: Symphony #9; New York PO (1949/53)
  • Brahms: Symphonies (esp. 2 and 3), Academic Festival and Tragic Overtures, and Haydn Variations; Columbia SO (haven't heard the Vienna PO discs)
  • Bruckner: Symphony #4, 9 with Columbia SO
  • Dvorak: Symphony #8 and 9; Columbia SO
  • Mahler: Symphony #1; New York PO if you can find it
  • Mahler: Symphony #4; Seefried, Vienna PO (1950, Turnabout)
  • Mahler: Symphony #5; New York PO
  • Mahler: Symphony #9 and Adagietto from #5; Vienna PO (1938, EMI)
  • Mahler: Kindertotenlieder; Kathleen Ferrier, Vienna PO (1949, EMI)
  • Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde; Patzak, Ferrier, Vienna PO (1952, London)
  • Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto; Nathan Milstein, New York PO (1945, Walter Ed)
  • Mozart: Late Symphonies; Columbia SO (late '50s-early '60s, Odyssey)
  • Schubert: Symphonies 5 and 8; Columbia SO and NYPO (c1960)
  • Schumann: Symphony #3; New York PO (1941, Walter Edition)
  • J. Strauss: Waltzes; get anything you can find (easiest is the Walter Edition set, with the Columbia SO)
  • Wagner: Die Walkuere, Act 1; Lauritz Melchior, Lotte Lehmann, Vienna PO (my favorite is from Danacord's Melchior series)
  • Wagner: Orchestral bleeding chunks with the Columbia SO in Walter Edition
  • back to the top

    Posted to: rec.music.classical.recordings
    Subject: Bruno Walter: late recommendations
    Date: Fri, 19 Jul 1996

    sridhar@htc.honeywell.com wrote:
    Hi, I recently bought the Beethoven Sym#6 (Pastoral) and Mozart Sym #41 (Jupiter) from Bruno Walter's Indian summer cycle with the Columbia Symphony orchestra. Are there any other recordings in this series which are highly recommended?

    Curtis Croulet responded: (and I glossed:)

    Note that I have the entire Walter stereo series, almost all of which I think is of high quality. But asked to choose the cream, these are my suggestions.

  • Beethoven Violin Con with Francescatti
    I'd dissent with this recommendation -- I have problems with Francescatti's intonation, and would opt in a New York minute for Walter's English recording with Joseph Szigeti. YMMV, of course.

  • Beethoven 4
    Also a sprightly performance of the 7th, and a lyrical 2nd. Avoid the 9th in favor of earlier efforts, and I seem to be one of the few (Richard Wang seems to be with me) who doesn't adore this stereo 6th. I'm also intensely curious about the rehearsal bits that occupy a separate disc, and can recommend a devastatingly powerful Coriolan Overture.

  • Brahms 3 & 4
    ... and the 1st and 2nd!

  • Bruckner 9
    I imprinted on this recording a long time ago, and also love his disc of the 4th, especially with the hushed excitement of the opening pages.

  • Dvorak 8 & 9
    Especially the 8th!

  • Mozart 38
    Charles Rosen has cited the 38th as the most ambitious of Mozart's essays in sonata form. Walter's performance was the one that made that clear to me. This is essential, as are the other of the last six symphonies (though I think I prefer the mellower stereo issue to the New York PO discs that have been issued in the Walter edition). Also check out the rehearsal to the "Linz" -- there's a fascinating mix of precision of rhythm and sheer lush beauty of sound that Walter seeks here.

  • Schubert 5 & 8 (*Unfinished with NY Phil, but it's stereo)
    Definitely not for the fast-tempo crowd, but a gorgeous 8th.

  • Wagner Tannhduser Ov & Venusberg (bad drop-out in one channel for several seconds late in the Venusberg Music - but seductive just the same)
    There's a 2-CD set of Wagner orchestral bleeding chunks, all of which is at least worth hearing, and much of which is worth treasuring. I have an electrifying Dutchman Overture in an older issue, and a Prelude and Good Friday Spell from Parsifal which is sheer orchestral magic.

  • I'd also warmly recommend the disc with four Johann Strauss waltzes and two overtures (I think there are some Brahms Hungarian Dances, some Dvorak Slavonic Dances, and Smetana's Vltava to fill). It's one of my favorite guilty pleasure discs, particularly for Tales form the Vienna Woods alone.

  • Qualified recommendations:
    Beethoven *Eroica* - enjoyable on its own - until you hear his NY Phil mono from 1949.

    Worth it for the Coriolan that follows, though as I said, I think I'd opt for the Symphony of the Air boradcast over the others.
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    Last updated: February 25, 2007 by James C.S. Liu

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