Walter: Bruckner - Symphony no.9, Wagner - Siegfried Idyll (APE)
Walter: Bruckner - Symphony no.9, Wagner - Siegfried Idyll (APE)

Composer: Anton Bruckner, Richard Wagner
Orchestra: Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra & Chorus
Conductor: Bruno Walter
Audio CD (August 12, 2008)
Number of Discs: 1
Format: APE (image+cue)
Label: Music & Arts Program
Size: 218 MB
Recovery: +3%
Scan: yes

01. Richard Wagner — Siegfried Idyll

Anton Bruckner — Symphony No. 9 in D minor
02. I. Feierlich. Misterioso
03. II. Scherzo: Bewegt, lebhaft. Trio: Schnell
04. III. Adagio: Langsam, feierlich

A forceful Ninth from Walter’s last New York season

Music & Arts has done collectors a service by releasing this live Bruckner Ninth from 1957. The last two concerts that Walter did with the New York Philharmonic as guest conductor were this Ninth and the Mahler Second. The sound is resonably good AM radio mono, although given the expanse of the orchestration, it can’t help but sound somewhat cramped. The orchestra sounds a bit scrapy, too, as it tended to in those days, and Walter was no disciplinarian.

Between this reading and his studio recording just a few years later in Los Angeles, a famous account of the Ninth on Columbia Records that held sway for a long time, Walter suffered a heart attack. His erratic health thereafter has been blamed for a loss of energy in his music-making. The “autumnal” style he brought to Beethoven, Brahms, and other composers stands at odds with Walter’s earlier, decidedly vigorous and fast-paced style. So it proves here. It’s a good performance all around, but if you expect nuance and finely shaped phrases, you will be disappointed. The Scherzo in particular favors thrust over refinement. The visceral Finale seems very forceful compared to every other version I know. It’s by far the most distinctive part of the performance.

Since Walter was so identified with Bruckner, it’s surprising to learn from the liner notes that he avoided the composer’s music, considering it long-winded and drawn out, until he was 51 and a long bout with double pneumonia brought a conversion to the spiritual quality inherent in Bruckner. In any event, if you want a powerful, dramatic reading of the Ninth that paints quite a contrast to later Walter, this is a prime example. (The generous filler is a Siegfried Idyll that I found fairly routine.)

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