Saturday, July 02, 2011

Sunday Classics preview: The "American" Bruno Walter brings his humanity to Wagner


The "Good Friday Spell" at Bayreuth, 1983

WAGNER: Parsifal: Act III, Good Friday Spell
Columbia Symphony Orchestra, Bruno Walter, cond. Columbia/CBS/Sony, recorded Feb. 25, 1959

by Ken

It's a nonstandard view, I know (and I've expressed it here before), but for me the really cherishable music-making Bruno Walter did was done here in North America. It's not just that this was Walter in the last two decades of his life -- as I noted in last night's preview, in which we heard a 1958 radio interview with him and the Fidelio and Leonore No. 3 Overtures from his 1941 Met Fidelio broadcast, he was 64 when he made his Met debut in 1941 -- though it's partly that. Walter unquestionably did "ripen" in his advancing years. But in what I've heard of his European performances of the later period, they still reflect an eyes-straight-ahead German traditionalism that hardly hints at the more spacious, lyrical, humane, frequently profound music-making he did so much of on this side of the Atlantic.

I am, as far as i know, the only person on the planet who considers Walter's 1936 and 1951 Vienna Philharmonic recordings of Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth) okay but nothing special -- not remotely in a class with the glorious 1960 Columbia recording with the New York Philharmonic. (See, for example, this August 2010 Sunday Classics post.) This of course is a work with which Walter was singularly connected, dating from the final years of Mahler's life, when Walter was most closely associated with him, and it would be the first major work of Mahler's whose premiere he did not live to conduct, a job that fell to Walter.

Anyway, this "Good Friday Spell" from Parsifal seems to me a fine example of what I mean, and it should sound even more so when we hear it again in the click-through in its more expected position following the opera's prelude, which I think will set us up pretty well for our glimpse tomorrow of Walter's special accomplishment with Wagner's Siegfried Idyll, which again seems to me very much the work of the deeply feeling "American" Walter.



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At 2:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One word for this clip: WARMTH.



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