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Mahler: Symphony no 9 / Bruno Walter, VPO

Release Date: 01/25/2005 
Label:  Emi Great Artists Of The Century Catalog #: 62965   Spars Code: ADD 
Composer:  Gustav Mahler
Conductor:  Bruno Walter
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Mono 
Length: 1 Hours 10 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

The playing is white-hot and there is a blazing intensity that has never been surpassed in subsequent recordings.

This is what recording is all about. It gives us the opportunity of hearing a Mahler symphony conducted by its dedicatee, Bruno Walter, and the man who directed its first performance in 1912. This was its first commercial recording, made in poignant circumstances not long before the Anschluss. Later performances (including Walter's subsequent CBS recording in the early 1960s) may have offered more polished orchestral playing and more vivid recording, but none brings one closer to its world of feeling or takes one more deeply into its spirit. The playing is white-hot and there is a blazing intensity that in
Read more my experience has never been surpassed in subsequent recordings. In my review I spoke of the "demonic passion" of the Rondo-Burlesque, and the final Adagio has a valedictory quality that once heard is not easily forgotten. Even younger collectors, unencumbered by nostalgia, should respond to the obvious authenticity of feeling it exhibits. Of course, there can be no such thing as a 'definitive' performance but this is as near as one can get. The digital remastering by Keith Hardwick enables one to hear more detail than ever before, and so charged is this performance that the intervening half-century is completely forgotten!

-- Gramophone [10/1989]


Anyone interested in the history of [Mahler's Ninth Symphony] should also have the "live" 1938 recording by the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Bruno Walter. I have mentioned this many times in passing but now is the moment to go into detail. The performance is unique, unforgettable and charged with a very special quality. Tempo-wise the first movement seems near ideal with a singing line, as though it's taken in one breath. The strings of the old pre-war Vienna Philharmonic ache with potent nostalgia and seem to have the flexibility of the human voice as Walter moulds them. The second movement is a true rustic Landler, harsh and stomping, "cheap". Hear the bows dig into the strings like village fiddlers at some Upper Austrian hop. It isn't rushed, as it so often is, either. When we reach the Rondo Burlesque the strain's beginning to tell. The orchestra, who can't have played this all that often, hang on for dear life but this only adds to the tension. Are they going to make it ? Yes, but it's a close-run thing and perhaps you wouldn't want to hear this too often. The last movement is a bit of a disappointment. It is the quickest you'll hear in overall tempo. The coda especially seems to flash by when held against Bernstein, Haitink, Horenstein. It isn't disastrous, though. It seems to work in the context of the rest and the strings are just as glorious here as they were at the start. I have often wondered whether Walter sensed the audience were maybe losing concentration and hurried a little more than he might have done.

Over and above the details of playing and interpretation this is a document of a unique occasion. Eight weeks afterwards Austria became part of the Hitler's Third Reich. Remember this when you sense the presence of the audience. Walter fled westward and many of the players would not be in their places when the orchestra resumed after the war. There is a moment in the first movement (27 bars from the end) when the whole orchestra is silent but for the solo flute descending and you can nearly touch the atmosphere in the hall. In sum, the whole recording couldn't be a reference version as the fluffs and imprecision can irritate and the recorded sound has limitations, but place it against some of the "squeaky clean" digital studio versions and it demands its place. You also soon forget the moments of imbalance in the sound level too.

-- Tony Duggan, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 9 in D major by Gustav Mahler
Conductor:  Bruno Walter
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1908-1909; Austria 
Date of Recording: 01/16/1938 
Venue:  Live  Musikvereinsaal, Vienna 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  2 Customer Reviews )
 A unique performance of Mahler 9 April 30, 2013 By Stephen Seidman (Austin, TX) See All My Reviews "In this performance, Bruno Walter conducts the VPO; it was recorded in early 1938, a couple of months before Austria was absorbed by Germany. The performance is a unique link to the past; the concertmaster was Mahler's brother-in -law, and many of the performers were present at the premiere in 1912. The string playing is worth the price of the recording. The accuracy and phrasing of the violins in the first movement is breathtaking. The first and second movements are played superbly, though I was less impressed by the third and fourth movements. The restoration is quite good, and you can often forget that the performance took place 65 years ago. This is a must-have recording for all interested in Mahler." Report Abuse
 AN ALL TIME GREAT! DON'T PASS IT UP!!! April 29, 2013 By P. Ledesma (Wellington, KS) See All My Reviews "Before submitting my own personal review of this recording, I’d like to address points made in the reviews provided from Gramophone (10/’89) and by Music Web International’s Tim Duggan. The former credits Keith Hardwick with the digital remastering duties while the liner notes from the recording I purchased reports that Andrew Walter did that work at Abbey Road Studios. I hope that someone will provide the clarification needed because we might not all be writing about the same recording. The rest of the review left me little to quibble with, so on that basis I’m pretty sure we’re discussing the same recording. Duggan also writes a generally sound review, though I don’t think the word “cheap” is fitting in any capacity to describe the Landler of the second movement. I made the point of listening intently to the recording 4 times on my state of the art Bose wave radio/CD player in an IDEAL acoustic setting . All things considered I found it aggressively articulated at times as Duggan did, but it was also tactful and included graceful turns and skips that Landlers (as folk dances)employ as well. I found this charming and ethnically authentic while at the same time an effective “shifting of gears” between the contrasting moods, semi-elastic tempi and kaleidoscopic tonal coloring. I completely agree with Duggan's evaluation of the Burlesque and I believe that if a reading of the 3rd movement doesn’t make the orchestra “hang on for dear life” as the reviewer asserts, then they aren’t being pushed as fervently they should. The Mahler I know wanted the musicians to feel the risk of hell fire at their backs should they fail to reach the feverish pace this section requires! Without question Walter delivers the driving tension and anxiety this Burlesque was designed for! Maybe Duggan “wouldn’t want to hear this (movement) too often,” but I have yet to grow even REMOTELY tired of it! I also have some bones to pick about his apparent dislike for the finale and coda. And I have to illustrate my point at the risk of being ridiculed for excessive bloviation. I seriously doubt that anyone enjoys the slowest slow movements in musical history as I do. My favorite Elgar’s “Nimrod” is the Bernstein version (at 6 minutes and 10 seconds). My favorite finale to Mahler’s 3rd is also Bernstein’s (over 25 minutes). Stokowski had the slowest – as well as my favorite - version of J. S. Bach’s “Komm Susser Tod” that I’ve ever heard. But as one that loves slower adagios in general, slower isn’t ALWAYS better, and this Walter reading iss up there with my favorite digital readings that were performed under superior recording conditions and demonstrably slower tempi! The coda does NOT “flash by” as Duggan asserts, it proceeds reverently and resolutely even though the tempo is not characteristically slow! The playing is very arguably top notch overall, though occasional blips are present. But that is what happens in many all time great live performances. This offering by Walter one is my favorites and it belongs amongst the best ever! I recommend it whole heartedly!" Report Abuse
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