Drawing from his wondeful catalog, EMI has just published a beautiful 9 CD box in tribute to Bruno Walter. These are his first recordings, mostly with the Vienna Philharmonic. Well, it’s scratch’n a little because they’re almost 30 years old, but the whole box contains some wonders which alone justify the purchase.
The program is of course very Viennese. From Mozart, we will find several overtures and symphonies, the 20th concerto with the maestro at the piano and a deeply moving Requiem recorded in Paris at the Theatre des Champs Elysees, with Elisabeth Schumann. Beethoven and Schubert are present, with the Pastoral and the Unfinished. There’s a bit of Strauss, extracts of the Valkyrie with Lotte Lehmann and Lauritz Melchior, an unforgettable and heartbreaking Mahler’s 9th symphony, the Kindertotenlieder with Kathleen Ferrier and some beads never reissued for ages.
Late 30′s. The musical landscape is dominated by two giants with opposite styles, Furtwangler, grandiose, hieratic, inheritor of the great German tradition and Toscanini, the exact opposite, famous for his precision, fast tempos and devastating wrath.
Between these two extremes, Bruno Walter proposes a third way, a voice that’s often described as sensitive, sincere, gentle, loving. The conductor doesn’t intend to show or demonstrate, he plays, lets the musicians sing and transmits his emotions with natural simplicity. Nothing else, but it’s already so much, and perhaps this is simply the truth.
Some may be surprised by the Viennese style of the 30s, with its tempo changes, these portamenti on the strings, this oldfashioned rubato. But please, tell me if you know a better interpretation of the Mahler 5 symphony adagietto.