Bruno Walter (1876-1962)
Symphony in d minor
Leon Bostein, conductor
cpo 777 163
Executive Summary: While Mahler's influence is obvious in the third
movement and portions of the finale, not as much like Mahler as you
would have thought; and about as good as you might have expected.
As with many of the great conductors, Bruno Walter had at one time in
his career considered being a composer. Hearing a work by a conductor
often explains a great deal of how they think about music. I am often
amazed that some very fine conductors have written such inconsequential
music. Of my contemporaries, the names of Lorin Maazel, Michael
Tilson-Thomas and Leonard Slatkin come to mind. How interesting it would
be hear some of those student works by Toscanini! Then we have that
decent Concerto for Double Bass by Koussevitzky, some superb music by
De Sabata and some reasonably fine music by Weingartner. Based on the
few works of Szell I have heard, he seems to have had some potential as
a composer. And then, on the other extreme we have the very successful
Mahler and Bernstein. While the jury is still out as to how long
Bernstein's music will be with us, Mahler alone seems to have jumped the
gap, perhaps nominally, to the holy grail of the standard literature.
Bruno Walter's essay in symphonic form falls, to my ears, just below the
music of Weingartner.
The Symphony is approximately an hour in duration. According to the
program notes, Walter's Symphony dates from 1907, written before the
composer turned thirty. Contrary to some notions, proffered in the
program notes, that the music was somewhat modernist, (well it is more
advanced than Brahms) I found it is clearly of its time. By this time
Mahler was a friend and Walter had been hired by Mahler to work at the
Vienna Court Opera. While one might expect an abundance of similarity
to the music of Mahler, the obvious borrowings are not overwhelming.
What is borrowed from Mahler is the approach to continuous development
and evolution of the thematic material. Ideas are rarely repeated; they
evolve. One of the clearest references to the "sound" of Mahler, including
his characteristic use of the triangle, can be found in the charming
third movement. An extended waltz, with trio, it serves the function
of a scherzo movement. With much of the other music being slow, a true
scherzo might have provided much needed contrast to the rest of the work.
One is left with the overall impression of a congenial, unpretentious
work of moderate interest. With the exceptions of the Mahleresque Third
Movement and the last third of the finale, nothing really lingers in the
ear or the mind.
Botstein's reading gives time for the music to breath, perhaps a bit
too much, as the musical argument seems, at times, to be unnecessarily
protracted. I am not that much of a purest to refrain from suggesting
that his interpretation could have benefited from some slightly faster
tempi, even if the markings did not call for them. The playing of the
orchestra is superb and the recorded sound is excellent.
It is wonderful to have the opportunity to hear this work and for that
reason alone, I can highly recommend the acquisition of this recording.
However, I doubt the merits of the music will engender much repeated
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