Notes and Editorial Reviews
This live 1955 Beethoven Ninth easily is Walter's finest, a remarkable achievement for a 79-year-old, and a very distinctive performance by any measure. The first movement is exciting, lovingly shaped but never mannered, and extremely precise in rhythm (not a Viennese specialty). Walter really nails the recapitulation, and resolute swiftness in the coda creates tension without ever turning crude. The scherzo also moves smartly, with some particularly perky oboe playing in the trio. At exactly 15 minutes long, the Adagio never drags, and in the variation before the big fanfare Walter gets the violins to shape their elaborately ornamented line very impressively.
As usual, the soloists in the finale are a mixed bag. Gottlob Frick sounds a bit wobbly and short of breath in his opening recitative, but he settles down nicely thereafter. Tenor Erich Majkut hasn't a shred of "Held" in his voice; he was a sentimental choice as someone who worked with Walter before the War. The two women are both reliable, and the choir sings well (though the men offer weak backing to Majkut's weak singing). Walter conducts with both passion and gravitas, with impressive climaxes at "vor Gott" and in the big choral fugue. He even gives Furtwängler a good run for his money in making a thrilling accelerando at the end; but unlike his illustrious colleague he actually manages to keep the orchestra together and prevents the percussion from drowning everyone else out.
The mono sonics are very listenable and naturally balanced but are extremely dry, as in Studio 8-H dry, and accordingly just as clear. You'll be amazed at the amount of woodwind detail that comes through, but the strings have that scruffy edge to them that often characterizes the post-War Vienna Philharmonic. Doubtless the presence of the audiences sucked some of the ambience out of the room, which in this case was the newly reopened Staatsoper and not the (often even drier-sounding) Musikverein. To be honest, I wasn't at all bothered by this, as it never gets in the way of the music-making, which really is pretty wonderful. In short, this is an essential memento of Walter's art.
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com