34 of 34 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
The only thing "wrong" with this set is that it's a German release, and not easy to find in (what's left of) the American marketplace. The 24-bit remastering is not quite a night-and-day level revelation, but it does offer an improvement in fidelity over the previous incarnations of every recording here, and considerably so in the cases of the oldest of them, the symphonies 4 and 5, and ESPECIALLY No. 5 -- and that, in itself, makes the set particularly worthwhile, as Walter's 1947 account of the Mahler 5th has had a complicated, almost star-crossed history up to this time as a recording (even Sony Classical's efforts at an intermediate upgrade in the 1990s had to be re-done AFTER its initial release). As represented here, the Symphony No. 5 finally needs a minimum of apologies for its sound -- for the first time, there is a semblance of richness to go with the clarity of what used to be a thin, very dry sounding recording. The rest is glorious from start to finish, including two renditions of the Symphony No. 1 that are almost as different as night and day -- the savage, furious mono recording with the NY Philharmonic from 1954 versus the more lyrical and reflective stereo recording with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra from the early 1960s.
As to the matter of Walter's age at the time of the later recordings here, and the Philharmonic versus the Columbia Symphony, this is really a non-issue. Yes, Walter had retired in 1956, and suffered serious heart problems that slowed him down. But the offer of the chance to make these recordings, which embodied a series of sessions from 1958 until 1962 (the year of his death), gave him a new lease on his professional life, as well as a final mission, to address the arrival of the then-new medium of stereo sound and leave a legacy that would continue to be heard beyond his own time. He rose to the occasion, as did the players involved. And that brings us to the "Columbia Symphony Orchestra" as represented here -- it was comprised of many of the finest musicians on the West Coast, a good number of whom gave up higher-paying engagements at the time simply for the opportunity to make these recordings with Walter. And most of them, already at or near the top of their respective professions, outdid themselves -- don't forget that at this time, recording sessions devoted to Mahler's symphonies were rare and special occasions, and that classical recording was only just entering its boom time, when the advent of stereo precipitated the re-recording of virtually every piece of music under the sun that still mattered to audiences in the late 1950s/early 1960s -- at this time, EVERY session was special to some degree, and the quality and musicianship and the outlook of the generation of musicians then participating made recording on repertory like this even more important, as an opportunity that they all knew had eluded their predecessors (and who would ever have thought such opportunities, to record the Mahler 1st or the 9th, yet, would arise on the West Coast, and under this conductor [the man who introduced the 9th to the world, and visa versa]? It was a gift from God for many of those concerned). The tendency wasn't just to rise to the occasion, but to soar wherever possible.
Additionally, the rehearsals and the recording schedules were planned specifically so as not to tax the conductor's strength -- as a result, the notion that Walter was bringing less than his optimum energy from that point in his life to the podium is simply not relevant on these performances (and only became a consideration in his final round of recordings, somewhat later than those represented here -- principally one or two Haydn symphonies and the Bruckner Symphony No. 7, if memory serves). For its part, the New York Philharmonic was, of course, a powerhouse ensemble, and there was great and longstanding love between Walter and the players, but there is no reason to look askance at the Columbia Symphony recordings -- they were a true labor of love and a special opportunity for all concerned. Walter went into the latter knowing that these would be his lasting (and last) testament to the world about his way of interpreting the works involved, and given his relationship to the composer and the pieces -- and one must remember that he conducted the premieres of Das Lied Von Der Erde and the Symphony No. 9 in the second decade of the twentieth century -- they can all be regarded as being but a single step away from authoritative, where they are not absolutely the latter. The whole set is magnificent. And that Fifth Symphony is a wonder.
It's also a sign of the times we live in that these recordings, which were done primarily with the American listening market in mind -- until the mid-1960s, Columbia Records did not have an overseas operation, and licensed its recordings to Philips Records in Europe (which is how Columbia's Epic label in the US got the work of I Musici and the Concertgebouw Orchestra, in return) -- are being offered in this optimum remastered form to European listeners, and must be imported to the United States. Sony Music in America ought to be ashamed of itself for that decision.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Apologies for stealing this amusing title from another amazon reviewer, "pclaudel", who reviewed the Sony Boxset of Walter's Mozart, but Sony has once again proven that they are completely incompetent when it comes to remastering.
Allow me to be clear from the beginning that I am not against Bruno Walter's interpretation of Mahler, and, in-fact, on the contrary, I happen to enjoy most of them greatly. Post heart-attack Walter is a very different Bruno Walter in terms of interpretation. When you listen to old recordings by Walter you notice that he was much faster than in his stereo recordings with in the Columbia Symphony Orchestra. He also tends to be less metronomic, with very noticeable accelerandi in the climaxes, and his recordings often demonstrate a tremendous amount of punch from the brass and timpani (which is noticeable even in his recordings with Columbia). Needless to say, I prefer the younger Walter, but I still think that he has much to say in his old age, despite the struggles that he had with health. Thankfully this set contains older recordings with the New York Philharmonic when Walter still retained a great deal of vitality. The performance of Mahler's 5th is among my favorites, and, if I recall correctly, it's the fastest on record. It is in my opinion that people interpret Mahler far too slowly these days. When you go back and listen to Walter's old recordings and the various other recordings made by Mahler acolytes who either knew the composer first-hand, or others who were doused in the Mahler tradition (Schuricht, Mengelberg, Klemperer, Fried, and van Beinum to name a few), you notice that they interpret this music far more quickly than most do today. This gives the music a sense of flow, whereas the heavy approach can be quite dragging. That's not to say that the slow approach is invalid (Horenstein is one of my favorite conductors of Mahler), but I find that it is more difficult for a conductor to pull off that kind of approach and that the fast approach should be initially preferred. But, of course, this is all down to preference. And, depending on this preference, you may find yourself preferring one Walter over the other, as his Columbia recordings are much slower on a whole in comparison to his previous recordings (especially noticeable in his 9th recording). I can live with both of Walter's approaches comfortably despite preferring one over the other, and his Columbia recordings still hold a considerable amount of insight in many areas.
...Now on to the bad news.
Sony has 'remastered' Bruno Walter's recordings of these symphonies in the most disgusting way possible. They have applied significant de-noising to the audio and, to compensate for this, they have EQ'd the treble on these recordings through the roof. The bottom-end just isn't there, and, in-fact, you can just barely make out the reverberation and acoustics of the area that they recorded this in. The audio just feels like it has a hole right in the middle of it, and it's completely straining on the ears to listen to this for a significant amount of time. I listen to my music primarily on headphones, so I don't know if people with stereo systems will find this as noticeable, but I imagine it wouldn't be any different. This isn't even the worst of it. After EQing Walter's recordings to hell and back, I imagine the guy who worked on this decided it didn't sound bad enough, so he concluded that he should mess with the dynamics and balances of the recordings. Fortunately he didn't seem to apply dynamic compression, but, instead, the dynamics are extremely schizophrenic in that the audio sounds like it's either cut far too low, or far too high. I have access to LP rips from original issues of these recordings and, in a lot areas, it doesn't even come close to sounding like the same recording. If you want to experience Bruno Walter's Mahler without your ears bleeding then I suggest you get the old "CBS Masterwork" series of these recordings. These may be more hard to find, and possibly more expensive to boot, but they offer far superior mastering. Pray for the person who mastered these recordings, for they are clearly deaf.