This box set contains the complete symphonies of Beethoven and Brahms, the later symphonies of Mozart, symphonies of Mahler and Bruckner, CDs with rehearsals and many more. The German born conductor Bruno Walter (1876-1962) was known primarily for his interpretations of the Viennese school. Though out of step with 20th century trends he was such a fine musician that he became a major figure - filling the wide gulf between the extremes of his day - Arturo Toscanini and Wilhelm Furtwängler.
One might expect Andrew Manze's interpretations of Johannes Brahms' four symphonies to adhere to ideas of the movement for historically informed performance practice, due to his scholarship and dedication to authenticity in his early music performances. However, and somewhat paradoxically, he and the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra have delivered more or less mainstream readings on modern instruments; there are no signs of late 19th century woodwind or brass timbres, and the strings play with standard vibrato. Yet Manze's historical fact finding has gone to a deeper level than just replicating instrumentation or orchestral scale, and he has found numerous clues to Brahms' intentions in the composer's transcriptions of the symphonies for two pianos, which often vary with the published orchestral scores in accentuation, tempo indications, and phrasing. These are fine points that can be discerned with careful listening and great familiarity with many other recordings of the symphonies, both conventional and historic, but they may not be the main thing listeners will consider in appreciating this set.
Otto Klemperer's Brahms needs no introduction. It remains a classic reference edition, one of the very few complete cycles with absolutely no weak links. It's customary to call these performances "granitic", an adjective that certainly applies to the First Symphony but doesn't begin to describe the swift and thrilling finale of the Fourth, the grand but impulsive Third (with its first-movement repeat in place), or the warmly lyrical Second. In general Klemperer's unsentimental but always gripping approach to this music practically defines the word "idiomatic". The Alto Rhapsody with Christa Ludwig also is one of the great ones, while the shorter works share the same virtues as the symphonies.
Bruno Walter's recording of the Siegfried Idyll with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra is radiantly beautiful–one of the most affecting of all this great conductor's statements. The horns wobble and nick a couple of notes, the ensemble isn't always perfect, and little things happen in the winds, but the sense of what the music is about–the character of the solo playing, the phrasing, and the wonderful feeling of delicacy and joy–is unmatched by anyone, except perhaps Karajan. The "cradle song" quality of the oboe solo early in the piece is captured to perfection, and the music moves along without ever being in a hurry. The end just floats away without seeming to drag or slow down at all. –Ted Libbey
…The rating says five stars. I say: there are too many stars to count. Get this SACD, and listen to Beethoven the humanist who plumbed and characterized all those joys and struggles we have come to call the human condition.