Symphony No.3 in E flat, Op.55 (Eroica)
Symphony No.5 in C minor, Op.67
Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York
Recorded in Columbia 30th Street Studio, New York City – March, April & May 1949 (Eroica) and 13 February 1950
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: May 2013
CD No: SONY CLASSICAL
Duration: 80 minutes
These may not be the very greatest versions of these milestone works, but returning to Bruno Walter’s 60-year-old Columbia recordings of Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ and Fifth Symphonies is a real joy. The New York Philharmonic (as it would become) plays lustily, with culture, and is at full-strength (no namby-pamby ‘reduced’ forces here). In general Berlin-born Walter (1876-1962) steers a mid-course through these works: middle-of-the-road if not always integrated tempos, yet with powerful surges when required, and with no lack of heady trumpets and commanding horns. Walter leads the music with flexibility, and also dignity and depth, nowhere more so than in the Third Symphony’s ‘Funeral March’.
Those who require all exposition repeats to be observed will be disappointed: Walter observes none, arguably not so vital in the ‘Eroica’ but potentially ruinous in the outer movements of the Fifth. That said, the C minor Symphony is very trenchant, even over-emphatic, and with a marked slowing, to virtually half-speed, for the first movement’s second subject. Still, better this than keeping the music on a metronomic tight leash. The second movement is marked Andante con moto; from Walter it is a solemnly slow march that with this tempo and the repeat-less first movement is double its predecessor’s length; nonetheless, its exudes humanity. The finale, suitably majestic, is perfectly paced and often thrilling, so too the closing bars of the ‘Eroica’.
Drowning as we are in similar-sounding ‘authentic’ attempts at this music, Bruno Walter’s conducting of these particular Beethoven Symphonies, here generously paired, although attracting criticism (not quite in George Szell’s league), really hits the spot for an independent view and is a genuine tonic. Certainly the rich-toned, potent and expressive playing is a boon. The mono sound is superb, spacious, clear, full and well-balanced, and has been expertly re-mastered to hiss-less effect without transgressing the true tones of the orchestra. The original covers and liner notes are retained. The Fifth Symphony, recorded in February 1950, was rush-released and available in American record shops just six weeks later.