Mahler: Symphony No 4 / Bruno Walter, Vienna Philharmonic

Release Date: 4/29/2014
Label: Andromeda
Catalog Number: ANDRCD5041
Conductor: Bruno Walter
Orchestra/Ensemble: Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2

Physical Format:

Notes and Editorial Reviews

MAHLER Das Lied von der Erde 1. Symphony No. 4 2. MOZART Symphony No. 38 3 Bruno Walter, cond; 1 Kathleen Ferrier (alt); 1 Julius Patzak (ten); 2 Hilde Güden (sop); Vienna PO ANDROMEDA 5041, mono (2 CDs: 139:50) Live: Vienna 1 05/17/1952, 2,3 11/06/1955

As I have previously provided fairly comprehensive discussions of Bruno Walter’s surviving performances of both Das Lied von der Erde (in 37:4) and the Symphony No. 4 (in 34:6), I can afford to be much briefer here. These discs are slightly remastered clones of releases originally issued by Andante ( Das Lied ) and DG (the two symphonies). The Mahler song cycle was part of a four-CD set devoted to Walter’s Mahler; it also featured the Mahler Fourth, but instead of the Mozart Symphony it included the three Mahler Lieder also sung by Güden on the same concert, whereas the DG single-disc release (as here) included the Mozart Symphony but omitted the songs. Except for the sound being remastered at a higher level and thus being more to the foreground—meaning simply that you can turn down the volume knob a notch here—the sound quality of the prior and present releases is identical. Unlike the elaborate Andante and DG issues, Andromeda provides no information other than the performers, track timings, and merely “1952–55” for the performance dates. However, both the Andante and DG releases are long out of print, and the rare used copy of either one that turns up on the Internet commands an exorbitant price, so one is grateful to Andromeda for making these performances available again, and at a very reasonable price to boot.

That is particularly the case because these are highly desirable items in the Walter discography. While this live Das Lied cannot match the concomitant Decca studio recording with the same forces for sheer sonic splendor, and has a flubbed entrance by Patzak at one point in the fifth song, the sound quality is still excellent and the performance has a sizzling electricity to it, with Patzak’s voice having noticeably more heft and amplitude. The Symphony No. 4 is one of Walter’s two greatest of his 12 surviving renditions of the work; it is rivaled only by the 1950 Vienna Philharmonic performance with Irmgard Seefried. While I very slightly prefer the 1950 performance as having a hair’s breadth more emotional intensity, and slightly prefer Seefried’s voice to Güden’s as a matter of subjective taste, this one has the superior recorded sound (again, very good for its time), and interpretively the two are virtually identical.

As for the Mozart, the “Prague” Symphony was long a Walter specialty, arguably the crown gem among his interpretations of the nine Mozart symphonies (Nos. 25, 28, 29, 35, 36, and 38–41) that the conductor kept in his active repertoire. Seven performances by him survive, four live and three studio:

12/18/1936 Vienna Philharmonic (EMI/HMV, studio)
05/25/1954 Maggio Musicale Fiorentino (Florence, live)
11/28/1954 New York Philharmonic (New York, live)
12/06/1954 New York Philharmonic (Columbia, studio)
05/05/1955 Orchestre National de la R. T. F. (Paris, live)
11/06/1955 Vienna Philharmonic (Vienna, live)
12/02/1959 Columbia Symphony Orchestra (Columbia, studio)

For unknown reasons, the 1954 studio recording was not released until it appeared on CD in 1995 in Sony’s Bruno Walter Edition . (For anyone not aware of it, the entire 39-CD edition was reissued a year ago in a budget-priced LP-size boxed set; a far more convenient regular cube box edition, minus the new booklet essay in the LP-size version, can be had from Korea for about 50 percent more plus postage.) That was a crying shame, for it is a great performance, rivaled only by the live performances from New York in 1954 and this Vienna one from 1955. (The Vienna studio version and the live performances from Florence and Paris all suffer from inferior recorded sound and somewhat scrappy orchestral playing, while the 1959 stereo recording comes from Walter’s autumnal phase when his Mozart became somewhat ponderous.) If forced to live with only one version, I would go for the live 1954 New York version; its somewhat glassy and harsh (though vivid) recorded sound is more than compensated for by the absolutely electrifying energy of its first and third movements (the latter timing in at a blistering 3:48, including applause!) and exceptionally flowing middle movement. But that version is again long out of print and practically unobtainable; anyone who has either this Vienna outing or the New York studio version, both again in superior sound to that live New York performance, need not feel he is missing out on anything.

This set, then, features stellar performances of Mahler and Mozart masterpieces by the maestro who was during his lifetime arguably the greatest interpreter of both of those composers. As such, it commends itself to every serious collector of historic recordings; highest possible recommendation.

FANFARE: James A. Altena
Works on This Recording
1. Symphony no 4 in G major by Gustav Mahler
Performer: Hilde Gueden (Soprano)
Conductor: Bruno Walter
Orchestra/Ensemble: Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic
Written: 1892-1900 ; Vienna, Austria
2. Das Lied von der Erde by Gustav Mahler
Performer: Julius Patzak (Tenor), Kathleen Ferrier (Alto)
Conductor: Bruno Walter
Orchestra/Ensemble: Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic
Written: 1908-1909 ; Vienna, Austria
3. Symphony no 38 in D major, K 504 "Prague" by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Conductor: Bruno Walter
Orchestra/Ensemble: Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Classical
Written: 1786 ; Vienna, Austria
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