Classical Reissue Reviews

BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 4 in E-flat Major “Romantic”; Symphony No. 9 in D Minor; MOZART: Symphony No. 35 “Haffner” – NBC Sym. Orch./New York Philharmonic (Mozart)/Philadelphia Orch. (Bruckner Ninth)/ Bruno Walter – Music & Arts (2 CDs)

The Philadelphians - in their first performance of this massive fragment of a symphony - put forth a noble refined account under a master interpreter.

Published on November 7, 2012

BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 4 in E-flat Major “Romantic”; Symphony No. 9 in D Minor; MOZART: Symphony No. 35 “Haffner” – NBC Sym. Orch./New York Philharmonic (Mozart)/Philadelphia Orch. (Bruckner Ninth)/ Bruno Walter – Music & Arts (2 CDs)

BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 4 in E-flat Major “Romantic”; Symphony No. 9 in D Minor; MOZART: Symphony No. 35 in D Major, K. 385 “Haffner” – NBC Sym. Orch./New York Philharmonic (Mozart)/Philadelphia Orch. (Bruckner Ninth)/ Bruno Walter – Music & Arts CD-1262 (2 CDs) 59:10; 66:30 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

To hear Bruno Walter lead the Bruckner Fourth Symphony (10 February 1940) in its 1888 edition allows us to relive a part of musical history, with Walter’s making his first 1940 appearance with Toscanini’s personal ensemble in music that had only recently been introduced to the orchestra, via William Steinberg in 1939. Though this essentially bucolic work eschews the “Catholic mysticism” of his later symphonies, Walter manages to emanate an athletic pantheism from the opening movement, and the otherwise compressed aura of Studio 8-H rather opens its acoustic vistas to the energy of Walter’s conception. Where the relatively dry acoustic does influence the reading occurs in the long, elastic line of the Andante, in which strings, horn, and flute share the bemused interchange before the return of the martial theme in resplendent, mixed colors. The delicate balance between hymn and march Walter maintains with taut but sympathetic sweetness. Arthur Berv’s French horn and John Wummer’s flute ring true and idiomatically in the course of lyrical starts and stops. Rusticity and grandeur in spacious collaboration emerge from Walter’s singularly etched reading.

The hunting-horn motif of the Scherzo under Walter exhibits a degree of violence we might not casually associate with this music. A churning undercurrent of elastic energy permeates the punctuation from the horns and the periodic silences that intervene. Again, John Wummer’s flute takes on a magical effect in the course of the agitated outpourings from brass and superheated strings. The obvious, rustic association of the Trio with those same peasant elements in the Beethoven Sixth Symphony seem rather overt. The rhythmic momentum as the music proceeds to its last statement of the “gallant” hunting calls becomes decidedly feverish, but the trumpet work could be more resonant. Bruckner had labeled his last movement Volkfest, indicating its essentially festive character. Walter injects a sinister element into the mix, a monumental sense of threat or of Nature’s potential for calamity. The musical elements basically derive from the first movement. The emergent martial themes project a majestic swagger, however, and Walter always could educe a radiance – here, somewhat manic – in the scores he cherished. The thoroughly jubilant finale has the New York audience rising in enthusiastic appreciation for a well-wrought tower.

The Philadelphia Orchestra live broadcast of Bruckner’s Ninth (28 February 1948) remind us that Bruno Walter worked with the ensemble often, recording a Beethoven Pastoral and Schubert Unfinished with the orchestra, both inscriptions of note. The Mozart D Major Symphony  with the New York Philharmonic (6 February 1944) communicates a sanguine driven cast in the first movement, the Allegro con spirito conceived in some of the same fires that mark Don Giovanni. A ‘galant’ elegance informs the Andante. The fine work in the lower strings makes us think of the dark hues in the Masonic Funeral Music. A hearty Menuetto leads to a rousing Presto, the Philadelphians in full throttle. Here, the deft filigree brings us to the Seraglio or Cosi fan tutte, all lightness and resplendent, confident virtuosity.

Few conductors brought the tragic awareness to Bruckner’s 1896 D Minor Symphony as did Bruno Walter, the composer’s having died while trying to connect the last E Major chords of his Adagio to the Te Deum’s opening C Major as a possible “solution” to his unfinished Ninth Symphony. Walter, like many of the interpreters of his generation, amended the scoring of the work to suit his conception, particularly in the tympani part of the opening movement. There are hints of slides and portamentos when and where Walter deems them appropriate, but the virile majesty of the Feierlich, misterioso first movement conveys an awed reverence that does not easily distinguish between Nature and God. The musical peaks in their fff enunciation remind us of The Wanderer Above the Sea of Mist by Caspar Friedrich. The deliberate ambiguities, vacillating between D Minor and D Major, ally the piece to the Beethoven Ninth, and Walter certainly links the two in their ferocious brassy energy.

The unnerving Scherzo in D Minor extends the spiritual angst that permeates this work as  much as does an exquisite faith.  A devilish elan drives the movement, despite some conciliatory plaints from the oboe, Marcel Tabuteau. The Trio offers the natural world as a refuge, but the undercurrents of spiritual malaise overcome whatever Austrian laendler might have consoled us. The last movement, among its several, reverential glories, proceeds through some unconventional harmonies – like the weird version of the E Major scale that opens the dark procession – that 20th Century composition would take drastically further. Wagner’s “Dresden Amen” comes early, but the latter pages of this staunchly wondrous vision confront something like the grim certainty of Apocalypse, followed by a terrified silence. Despite moments of uneven ensemble, the Philadelphians – in their first performance of this massive fragment of a symphony – put forth a noble refined account under a master interpreter, a glowing valediction that does not completely proscribe mourning.

—Gary Lemco




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