Walter: Beethoven - Symphony no.5, Schubert - “Unfinished” (SACD ISO)
Walter: Beethoven – Symphony no.5, Schubert – “Unfinished” (SACD ISO)

Composer: Franz Schubert, Ludwig van Beethoven
Orchestra: New York Philharmonic, Columbia Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Bruno Walter
Audio CD
Number of Discs: 1
Format: DSD64 (iso)
Label: Sony
Size: 2.35 GB
Recovery: +3%
Scan: yes

Schubert: Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D. 759 “Unfinished”
01. Schubert: Symphony No. 8 “Unfinished,” D. 759: 1. Allegro moderato in B minor
02. Schubert: Symphony No. 8 “Unfinished,” D. 759: 2. Andante con moto in E major
New York Philharmonic / Bruno Walter

Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67
03. Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 Op. 67 – 1. Allegro con brio
04. Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 Op. 67 – 2. Andante con moto
05. Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 Op. 67 – 3. Allegro
06. Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 Op. 67 – 4. Allegro
Columbia Symphony Orchestra / Bruno Walter

Bruno Walter conducts the 5th (“Fate”) Symphony of Ludwig van Beethoven, and the 8th (7th in the new counting) of Franz Schubert, the “Unfinished” Symphony. Reference performances from the maestro’s final years…not the most intense readings, but perhaps the most profoundly human renditions of these pieces, rendered in the best sound they’ll ever be in.
The Unfinished was recorded two years earlier, this time in New York. Poised and patrician once more this is a reading that concentrates on lyricism rather than incipient tension or internal dynamic contrasts. The orchestra sounds notably fine and Walter’s direction retains a grand seigniorial approach, one that will perhaps disappoint those who might have missed the spirit of his fiery wartime performances with this orchestra, a time when he seemed on occasion hell bent on recreating Toscanini’s sweeping dynamism. Nevertheless his later approach certainly makes up in warmth and spacious breadth – especially the second movement – what it lacks in velocity and power.
Just like the other three Bruno Walter releases in Sony Classical’s current crop of SACD reissues, this classic Beethoven/Schubert coupling benefits from the DSD transfer, which reproduces as faithfully as possible the musical content of the original reel-to-reel master tapes. As I and other reviewers have noted elsewhere, the cost is a small amount of tape hiss, eminently preferable to the so-called “no noise” digital editing which tampers with the musical signal as it tries to remove noise. Here is a transfer which presents the original intentions of the artists in the best possible light, capturing the acoustic signature of the recording venue (American Legion Hall in Hollywood) perfectly — warm, reverberent, yet transparent, ideally matching Bruno Walter’s interpretive idiom.
Some listeners might find the performances old-fashioned (e.g., the relatively slow tempi, the cultivated shaping of phrases, large orchestral forces, absence of repeats, etc.), but these are undeniably powerful and beautiful renditions which reflect a performance style that has largely disappeared and which to my mind is as valid as any of the so-called “authentic” performances of more recent times.
The DSD transfer also allows us to hear a lot of detail that we simply could not hear in the previous LP and PCM transfers. Listen, for example, to the coda of the Beethoven Fifth, where you can hear the whole range of orchestral texture, from the piccolo floating high above to the basses and tympani grounding underneath with all of the inner voices clearly articulated. In sum, very highly recommended.

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