[7/3/2011] Bruno Walter rehearses and plays Wagner's "Siegfried Idyll" (continued)
REMINISCENCE BY PRODUCER TOM FROST
For the 1994 Sony CD issue of Bruno Walter's Columbia Symphony Wagner recordings, longtime Columbia Masterworks producer Thomas Frost provided a lovely reminsicence. Apart from being one of the nicest people I've ever met in the classical music business, Tom produced a slew of wonderful records, which (and this sets him apart from a lot of producers, who seem to want to make their records) always seemed to reflect the musical imaginings of the artists at the business end of the microphones. (Here I might throw in the names of RCA's John Pfeiffer and EMI and later CBS's David Mottley.)
Tom is probably best known now as the producer who earned the trust of the legendary -- and legendarily hard to deal with -- Vladimir Horowitz in his later years, but I can't forget the long series of gorgeous recordings he produced with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra, many of which still seem to me among the most beautiful orchestral recordings ever made. For me the warmth and generosity of Tom's personality shine through this reminiscence.
RECORDING WITH BRUNO WALTER:
MEMOIRS OF A PRODUCER
A few years before his last public concert, May 1960 in Vienna, when he was eighty-three, Bruno Walter had begun to curtail his concert schedule while increasing the frequency of his studio recordings.
Since recording sessions were not preceded by rehearsed concert performances, rehearsals took place in the studio. Generally, each three-hour session consisted of about two hours of rehearsing and one hour of recording. The benefits of this procedure were both immediate and far-reaching: immediate because the recording team had an opportunity to balance the sound prior to recording, and far-reaching because from the moment of creation we were able to document the birth of each performance by one of the greatest conductors of this century.
Re-hearing the 1959 rehearsal of Wagner's Siegfried Idyll brought forth many memories of Bruno Walter as a noble human being who had evolved to such a high level of musical understanding and had mastered the art of human relations as well. From the very first, I had been astounded by his ability to elicit the very best from the musicians through gentle persuasion rather than an iron fist. This approach, as we know, is not standard practice among conductors. Rather than imposing his will through the power of his position as conductor, he motivated the musicians to follow his suggestions by using common sense and logic; he convinced them that his solutions were the most valid and inevitable.
His effect was that of an inspiring teacher: demonstrating a melodic line with lyrical singing; increasing awareness of how individual parts in relation to each other and the whole; using colorful metaphors to elucidate the structural and expressive elements of the music; always addressing the musicians by name, not merely by the name of the instrument they played. Instead of "I would like . . . ," we often heard "the music demands . . ." And there was no question of his sincerity when he addressed the musicians with the admonition "Come, my friends." The tone of his voice alone had the power to persuade one to follow him to the ends of the earth.
It is true that these circumstances were unusual, quite rare in the high-pressured world of music. Bruno Walter had settled in Los Angeles where he loved the mild climate and slower pace of living. He allowed himself much time to reflect and re-study the music he wanted to record. To preserve his strength, we recorded only three times a week: Monday, Wednesday and Friday, three hours each day. February and March were the months in which we liked to record. We were planning to record in February and March of 1962, but in December 1961 his health began to fail. He passed away in February 1962.©1994 Thomas Frost
NOW BACK TO THE SIEGFRIED IDYLL REHEARSAL
The rehearsal: "May I have it once more from the beginning? . . . Everybody sing" (bars 1-28)
The performance: bars 1-28
And here again is the finished performance, now going through bar 28.
Rehearsal: "Oh, let's begin once more, from the very beginning" (bars 1-50)
Walter has continued working beyond bar 28, and now takes it again from the beginning, and now continues on through the staccato-legato triplet figure for 2nd clarinet, bassoon, and horns at bar 50.
THE COMPLETE FINISHED RECORDING
This time instead of hearing just this portion of the finished performance, I think we'll go ahead and hear the whole thing.
WAGNER: Siegfried Idyll
Columbia Symphony Orchestra, Bruno Walter, cond. Columbia/CBS/Sony, recorded Feb. 27, 1959
AND HERE'S THE COMPLETE PUBLISHED REHEARSAL
BONUS: TWO PERFORMANCES OF
THE SIEGFRIED IDYLL BY GLENN GOULD
In our previous Siegfried Idyll exploration we heard performances of the full-orchestra version conducted by Hans Knappertsbusch, Sir Adrian Boult, Giuseppe Sinopoli, and of the original chamber scoring conducted by Otto Klemperer and Sir Georg Solti.
I had a bunch of other performances lined up for our eventual "Return of the Siegfried Idyll" post, but at this point I think we'll limit it to just one -- no, two: the piano transcription that Glenn Gould made for his 1973 recording of piano transcriptions of Wagner, and a performance of the chamber version he conducted several months before his untimely death in October 1982. In both genres Gould's approach was very leisurely, and very affectionate.
WAGNER: Siegfried Idyll (arr. for piano by Glenn Gould)
Glenn Gould, piano. Columbia/CBS/Sony, recorded 1973
WAGNER: Siegfried Idyll (chamber version)
members of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Glenn Gould, cond. CBS/Sony, recorded July 1982
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