A fascinating look at Bruno Walter
Alan Majeska | Bad Axe, MI, USA | 08/25/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"VAI's DVD is a fascinating look at conductor Bruno Walter (1876-1962) with whom I have been familiar for over 30 years from his Columbia Symphony recordings of Beethoven and Brahms Symphonies and Wagner Overtures and Preludes. Here, Walter is shown conducting a July 1958 rehearsal of the Vancouver International Festival Orchestra (Vancouver, British Columbia)in movements I and IV of Johannes Brahms Symphony No. 2 in D Major, which is very interesting. Walter was nearly 82 when this was filmed, and the previous year he had a serious heart attack which nearly ended his career. Walter had just retired from conducting concerts on a regular basis, but was still making recordings.
The film quality is below the best television had in 1958: black and white, sometimes slightly blurry, some of the shots too distant for maximum impact. But the picture is clear most of the time, and Walter is quite dynamic on the podium. He speaks quickly and clearly, and though he is kind and polite, one is never in doubt about what he wants, or when he isn't pleased with something, i.e. "the flute is much too loud!" He knows the music from memory, and asks the violins to play a certain passage with a given bowing stroke different from what they were doing in one spot, and constantly works/re-works some parts, to his liking. The sound is acceptable mono, but not as good as his Columbia Symphony recording of this work.
There is a very interesting interview of Bruno Walter with Los Angeles Times music critic Arnold Goldberg in the back garden of Walter's Beverly Hills home. Walter talks about his career as a conductor in younger years in Germany and Austria, mentions conductor Karl Muck, his personal disdain of serial and 12 tone music, his thoughts on jazz. He talks about how a conductor has to be more than a musician, technician, leader, a combination of all the above and more, and how a violinist, cellist, pianist, etc. can practice in private perfecting his/her technique, yet a conductor can only really "practice" with a 80-100 piece orchestra, and personalites can get in the way: difficulties of working with other people. He talks about California, and why he decided to live there. These are very interesting topics, and Walter speaks clearly and plainly to Mr. Goldberg's questions. One can tell both of them are enjoying the interview and discussion.
The DVD concludes with Walter's rehearsal of mt. IV of Brahms' Symphony 2, back in Vancouver. Walter is again dynamic, stopping the orchestra frequently to talk about articulation and staccato, where the trumpets and horns are too loud, etc. The closing credits are shown as the coda of IV is played by the orchestra with great brio, and concludes with the rousing closing chords played by the orchestra.
Despite less than state of the art sound and picture quality, I found this fascinating and will watch it again and again. I'm also going to pull out my Walter/Columbia Symphony (CBS) in Brahms Symphony 2 for a listen, and play Walter's Brahms 1,3,and 4 while I'm at it.
PS - VAI includes a bonus performance of Walter/Paris Conservatoire Orchestra in Berlioz' SYMPHONIE FANTASTIQUE, recorded in 1939. This is a mono, audio only recording, (no visuals) but a great bonus of 45 minutes of so of music. The sound, derived from 78 RPM records, has been remastered, and is very pleasant to listen to: I really enjoyed it, a great example of Walter with a French orchestra from an earlier period in his life and career."
A rare chance to see a master rehearse an orchestra.
firstname.lastname@example.org | Windsor, Ontario, Canada | 05/26/1999
(3 out of 5 stars)
"An old (1958) but none-the-less fascinating video of one of this century's great Maestros rehearsing the Vancouver Festival Orchestra in Canada - an orchestra he had never before conducted. In addition, an interview, which although somewhat cliched in nature, gives a great insight into the musical mind of Dr. Walter. Extremely useful as an instructional tool, especially if you look past the actual rehearsing to the interpretation he is attempting to achieve with the orchestra. (It also helps if you are acquainted with Brahms). A fine amplification of the 'Great Conductors' video also available through Amazon."
Superb look at a musical giant.
Augustus Caesar, Ph.D. | Eugene, Oregon United States | 01/22/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Bruno Walter (1876-1962) was one of the 20th century's truly colossal musicians. When he died, at nearly 86 years old, he was (with the exception of Otto Klemperer, who died 11 years later) the last in the long line of great European maestros who had directed some of the most legendary operatic and symphonic ensembles in the history of classical music. Walter served from 1901 to 1907 as Gustav Mahler's assistant at the Vienna Opera (having served as his vocal coach earlier in Hamburg) and later premiered "Das Lied von der Erde" and the Ninth Symphony. He served 11 illustrious years as music director at the State Opera in Berlin and was recognized as one of the supreme interpreters of his time in the music of Mahler, Schubert, Wagner and particularly Mozart. This video was filmed in 1958 during a rehearsal in Vancouver, British Columbia. Walter, at 82, is in fine form throughout, displaying his experienced musical insight, acute ear and a profound knowledge of the score, which he conducts from memory. The music being rehearsed is Brahms' Second Symphony. Also included is an interview with Walter conducted in his garden by Los Angeles Times music critic Albert Goldberg. The interview is interesting, but a tad bit unctuous. Isaac Stern once said of Walter, "There was a gentleness to Bruno Walter--an APPARENT gentleness. Because he was one of the most stubborn and iron-willed of people. But there was a certain courtliness about him." This is evident in the film, as Walter politely but firmly corrects the orchestra and pulls from them the sound he hears in his head. Anyone interested in orchestral conducting or in seeing a legendary maestro doing what he does best will enjoy this film. Apart from musicians, however, I can't imagine who would be interested in it."