Monday, June 29, 2015

Bruno Walter - Schubert's Unfinished and Beethoven's Fifth

   There are genius musicians and musicians with moderate talent. Among them there are modest people and impostors. Since most musicians are duplicating some patterns, it is really hard to say what part of the scene is more important in the history of music, creators or carriers and supporters.  One of the best ways to test creative talent in music is to examine how original are interpretations of commonly known works. Performances too much dependent of tradition, reproductive and not self-reliant are excluded at this point, although we should remember this is the main part of all musical activity. Interpreters who can show the work in new perspective, who are able to find some new ideas in famous and commonly known work, these are really gifted people. Such works as most popular symphonies like Beethoven’s Fifth or Schubert’s Unfinished are the test some musicians will never pass.
   Bruno Walter recorded Schubert and Beethoven many times. Especially looking for recordings of most popular symphonies like Beethoven’s Fifth and Schubert’s Unfinished, one can be overwhelmed by number of performances and recordings. But our astonishment fades away when we consider it was just a part of everyday work and basic symphonic repertoire was recorded on various occasions, for example with live radio broadcasts. Standards were considerably lower and market more voracious, so recordings had more chance to be sold. These recordings have paramount importance in understanding changes in perception of music in last century. Bruno Walter recorded Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 “Unfinished” nine times, first time with Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in 1936 and last time with the same orchestra in 1960. Beethoven Symphony No. 5 in C Minor Bruno Walter recorded four times, first time for Columbia with Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in 1926, second with New York Philharmonic in 1941 and then two times more as parts of wider projects of complete Beethoven’s Symphonies in 1950 with New York Philharmonic and in 1958 with Columbia Symphony Orchestra.

Bruno Walter conducts Schubert and Beethoven (1963)

   In 1963 edition of two most popular symphonies Columbia chose newest studio recordings. Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 is sixth recording and was made with New York Philharmonic March 3rd, 1958 at St. George Hotel in Brooklyn. It was recorded three more times with Chicago Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic and with Vienna Philharmonic, but all of these were live recordings. Recording of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 with Columbia Symphony Orchestra was Walter’s last recorded performance of this work. It was done during two day session January 27 & 30, 1958 at American Legion Hall. Both were master performances and Columbia published them repeatedly as parts of various programs. Unfinished Symphony was published under Columbia Masterworks label since 1960 in many re-editions. It basic set was together with Schubert’s Fifth Symphony. This album has its license edition in German Democratic Republic in 1967, in 1974 was republished in CBS Masterworks and in 1996 on CD with Beethoven’s Overture Leonore III by Sony. Beethoven’s Fifth was published with Fourth and sold both as a part of  complete Symphonies' set or as alone album.
   What makes these more than half century old recordings still interesting is the question of value in music. In fact this is also the way to ask about autonomy of musical meaning. 19th century music is so much complex it can be reinterpreted without the danger its potential can be exhausted. The issue in best conductors’ performances is not only to show the new face of the composition, but to show it in most universal, most capacious shape. Bruno Walter read Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 B Minor ‘Unfinished’ in a dramatic way, moving the centre of gravity from melodic narration to background harmony dramatic contrasts and obsessive rhythms. Powerful dynamics and orchestral precision of sound and articulation give this performance more tragic aspect than usual. In contrast Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 C Minor Op. 67 Bruno Walter shaped as more classical, balanced in equilibrium of melodic and rhythmic ideas and formal discipline. Characteristic feature of his interpretation of Fifth are moderate tempos, never too fast, rather slower, calm and reassuring. Five stars for quality of interpretation sound of orchestras and recording quality.

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