Beethoven: Symphonies 7 & 9
New York Philharmonic & Bruno Walter
This disc was waiting for me when I arrived back home from NYC earlier today. Arthound, just some notes for you on the sound:
I compared the 9th on this disc to a Urania disc I had with the same performance, and it's markedly better. It's not really close, actually. The Urania sound was constricted and strangely positioned, almost like trying to listen to a symphony in a tunnel, while the sound here is pleasant and full and as responsive as one could expect from Columbia, which was not very well-regarded in those days for its recordings. All of the recordings date from 1949-1952 with the exception of the 8th (1942) and the 6th (1946, which is with Philadelphia rather than New York). I also compared them to the roughly contemporary Walter/NYPO Brahms cycle on french Sony (1951-1953) and the sound is comparable in terms of quality. In some ways I'd say it's a step up, as some of the harshness in the strings seems improved. I thoroughly enjoyed the 7th and 9th in this collection, and look forward to the rest of the cycle. If you're a Walter fan and don't have this, it is absolutely worth strong consideration. And so long as you can deal with less than perfect sound, I'd recommend this set wholeheartedly. To my ears the sound is perfectly fine, and you can hear almost all of the detail, save during the very loud forte passages. Walter's NYPO recordings are so much more vigorous and exciting than the later Columbia SO recordings. Besides the stereo aspect of the latter, it's hard to believe that it's that material which is currently in print. It's strange to think that there's an entire generation of music listeners who probably think of Walter as some mellow and grandfatherly podium presence, since as a young man this couldn't have been further from the truth. Tempi-wise he was much closer to Toscanini, as evidenced by the 7th on this disc. But to this, he adds subtle tempo flexibility and his trademark sense of humanity. Beautiful music-making, of the kind one rarely hears anymore.
EDIT: upon further listening, I'd say the Brahms set is brighter, which has its pros & cons. As I mentioned before, this makes the strings sound wiry and edgy. However on the flipside the one thing I've noticed on the Beethoven set is that the tympani are a little boomy. It's particularly noticeable in the scherzo of the 9th and the Finale of the 7th. I'm pretty forgiving with sound, but some people might not be, so I thought I'd further distinguish the differing sonics on these two similar releases.