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Monday, November 14, 2016

Bruno Walter, Piano Quintet, Violin Sonata

When people hear the name Bruno Walter (1876-1962), they most likely think of him as one of the greatest conductors of last century. Perhaps they know that he started out as Mahler's conducting protege at the Vienna Opera. Most of us are unfamiliar with Walter the composer. That is understandable, since his output was not vast and was largely confined to his Vienna period.

Now we can hear some of what he was up to on a new volume of chamber works, showcasing his Piano Quintet and Violin Sonata (Naxos 8.573351), written in 1904 and 1908, respectively.

These are highly dramatic, bravura, complex, late romantic works with plenty of chromaticism and thematic density. They do not sound all that Mahlerian, do sound slightly Straussian on occasion, but mostly sound singularly Walterian while also being very much of their times.

They in the end get your ears motivated to follow, as each movement in both cases travels rather far into the expressive zones of the proto-modern in ways that show a fruitful musical imagination and a very accomplished craftsmanship in play.

Helping us appreciate the music a good deal is the performances of those involved: Exaterina Frolova on violin and Mari Sato on piano for the sonata; Patrick Vida and Lydia Peherstorfer on violins, Sybille Hausle on viola, Stefanie Huber on cello, and Le Liu on piano for the quintet. All have delved deeply into the scores at hand and have come up with fully satisfying performances, expressive more than sentimental, dynamic in all the right ways.

The music is weighty and deep. Is Walter an undiscovered great of his era? Not precisely, or not from the evidence of these two works alone. But certainly he was a composer of great promise. All is the pity he did not continue. What we have here, though, is well worth hearing.

It will be a nice addition to your early 20th century chamber music collection, especially for those interested in the extraordinarily fertile post-fin de siecle Vienna music scene.

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