Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphony No. 2,
Bruno Walter, cond; Maria Stader (sop); Maureen Forrester (alt); Westminster Ch; New York PO
MUSIC & ARTS 1199, mono (79:47) Live: New York 2/17/1957
This appears to be a reissue, in identical format, of a Music & Arts release from 2007. Why, I don’t know; there’s no new remastering, so if you bought it first time around, you’re not missing anything. If you didn’t, boy are you missing something—the occasion was a very special one,
Walter’s farewell concert as a regular guest conductor at the Philharmonic, and its highly charged nature comes through very vividly in sound that lacks some immediacy at the quiet end of the spectrum, but is well balanced with a satisfyingly wide range.
As detailed in Mark Kluge’s first-rate booklet notes, Columbia planned its studio recording to tie in with the live performance, but completion of the sessions was postponed on grounds of Walter’s health issues, and in fact eventually had to wait a whole year. Although the vocal movements were already taped in February 1957, the concert’s soprano, Maria Stader, was replaced by Emilia Cundari for contractual reasons.
Despite close correspondence in tempos, overall game plan, and interpretive details, the live performance consistently scores over its studio counterpart in terms of an added keenness, edge, and vitality. A case in point is the very opening, where the cellos and basses project their “wild” graveside monologue with sharper dynamic focus, rhythmic point, and greater rhetorical force. Walter’s first movement is exciting and cogent, his idiomatic command more persuasive than the plain, hair-shirt way of Klemperer (whether the seat-of-pants live Concertgebouw version from 1951 or the fine studio polish of the Philharmonia for EMI a decade later), and without resorting to the expressive exaggerations of Bernstein with the New Yorkers a mere six years later (CBS, 1963). The New York string and brass sound has a combination of punch and saturation (crucially colored by that distinctive fast trumpet vibrato) ideal for the composer.
In the second-movement Ländler, Walter conjures a real Viennese sensibility from the New York strings, in idiomatic rhythmic lift and singing portamento—at the last reprise of the main theme (Rehearsal 13 + 10), hear his memorable shaping of the violins’ countersubject,
indeed! The Scherzo is colorful, richly detailed, with an irresistibly authentic
is taken at a comparatively swift pace, with an uncommonly direct quality of long-breathed eloquence. In the finale, Walter brings a lifetime’s experience of the score to bear in a reading of tremendous sweep and drama, with acute characterization of individual episodes within a unified conception of the whole, again without resort to exaggerated point-making. Orchestra and chorus respond with blazing commitment, and (from the transfiguration at Rehearsal 33 onward) an ineffable combination of sweetness and nobility that really was uniquely Walter’s. Maria Stader is a dream.
In sum, this is easily the best of Walter’s three extant versions (besides the Columbia recording, there is another live version with the Vienna Philharmonic in 1948, available on Andante—untidy but with no shortage of atmosphere and punch, memorable Viennese strings in the second movement, but inferior soloists in the finale). Indeed for my money it has little competition from anyone else, for unforced authenticity of sound and expression, and sheer dramatic bite. Unmissable.
FANFARE: Boyd Pomeroy
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 2 in C minor "Resurrection" by Gustav Mahler
Maria Stader (Soprano),
Maureen Forrester (Alto)
Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1888/1896; Germany
Date of Recording: 02/17/1957
Venue: Live Carnegie Hall, New York City, USA
Length: 79 Minutes 47 Secs.
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