WORKS: Variations on the St Anthony Chorale
PERFORMER: New York PO/Bruno Walter
CATALOGUE NO: MHK63328 AAD mono Reissue (1954)
Soon every American orchestra will have a showcase Mahler recording to trumpet its virtues, but the Houston Symphony’s live Mahler First certainly stakes its claim high up the list. Eschenbach’s gestures are impressive and well-articulated – remarkably so in the finale’s lyric relief, superbly if knowingly moulded – but sometimes a little too grand for the relatively limited weight and attack of the Houstoners. Only compare Walter and a feral New York Philharmonic at the beginnings of scherzo and finale, setting cruelly high standards.
It isn’t enough though, to invoke the name of Walter as a demi-god disciple of the composer. Eschenbach unquestionably improves upon Walter’s rather rough and ready 1954 recording in the quieter, more atmospheric moments. The silky reminiscences of the first movement’s misty morning landscape are even more impressive than when we first encountered it, perhaps because by the finale the audience is clearly riveted, and the funeral march, in one of the most detailed accounts on disc, has an eerie transparency between superb klezmer-style intrusions. Mix Eschenbach’s sophistication with Walter’s brute force and you have the perfect performance. Unfortunately that’s already been very nearly realised in Kubelík’s utterly beguiling and sharp-edged Bavarian interpretation. Walter’s reading from early LP days lacked repeats in the first two movements; now there’s a beefy Brahms St Anthony Variations, more epic than lyric, to fill the measure. David Nice