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CD Review

Ludwig van Beethoven

Symphony #3 in E Flat Major "Eroica", Op. 55

Symphony of the Air/Bruno Walter
Music & Arts CD-1010 monaural AAD? 49:39
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This somewhat mysterious CD bears the dedication "To the Memory of Arturo Toscanini," although only on the actual CD itself. Neither the booklet nor any of the other supplementary documentation repeats that dedication. (The "Symphony of the Air," of course, is the name taken by the NBC Symphony Orchestra after Toscanini's death.) The booklet contains an interesting essay about Bruno Walter by another great conductor, Sir Adrian Boult, but nothing in that essay refers specifically to this Carnegie Hall performance of the "Eroica," which dates from February 3, 1957.

The timings for the four movements are 15:07, 15:51, 5:47, and 11:48. Less than one year later, Walter made his final commercial recording of this symphony in Los Angeles with the "Columbia Symphony Orchestra," an ad hoc group heavily seeded by members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. On that occasion, the timings were 16:00, 15:45, 6:04, and 12:20. Earlier in his career, Walter would have taken a more athletic approach to this score. The 1957 broadcast performance and the 1958 studio recording, however, both are products of what writers often refer to as Walter's "Indian summer." Interpretively, they are quite similar. Beethoven's raging fire has been replaced by something more even-tempered and distanced – this is pride, grief, and heroism recollected, not experienced first-hand. Other reviewers have commented that the 1957 performance is leaner, more Toscanini-like than Walter's usual style, but I don't really hear that on this CD.

Walter used a relatively small orchestra for the Los Angeles sessions. The present performance seems to use a larger ensemble, but the sound really isn't heavier. The quality of the playing is rougher than it would be in Los Angeles, but of course a live broadcast doesn't offer the opportunity for retakes.

Most collectors who have Walter's stereo Beethoven cycle might not need this CD, but Walter completists will be pleased by a job well done, and will welcome the opportunity to compare West Coast Walter with East Coast Walter.

Atypically for Music & Arts, this CD has been pressed in Japan by the Denon label. This is a reissue of a title released in 1973 on LP by Educational Media Associates, then by Music & Arts on CD, and deleted four years ago.

Copyright © 2003, Raymond Tuttle