Bruno Walter Chamber Works Show Skill

Bruno Walter is best remembered as one of the greatest conductors of the 20th Century. But that wasn’t the plan. When he started out, Walter wanted to emulate his mentor and friend, Gustav Mahler. That is, be a composer who also conducted.

Most of Walter’s compositions come from early in his career. In time his conducting overshadowed composing.

The two works on this release are from the early 1900s. Walter was in his late thirties, and these works reflect his maturity. 

The String Quartet in D major of 1903 was only performed once. According to Walter, the final two movements alienated the audience. I think I understand why. 

The first two movements are finely crafted, if somewhat conservative. Brahms comes to mind. The third movement takes us into the realm of exotic harmonies. The same realm that Mahler and Schoenberg were also exploring. The finale is also somewhat thorny, with small blocks of sound tossed about the quartet.

The Piano Quintet in F-sharp major was written two years after the quartet. The harmonies here are still adventuresome, but not as jarring as the quartet’s.  Plus Walter seems to have looked back as well as forward. The sweeping melodies reminded me of Schumann in a modern setting.

The Aron Quartet has a good ensemble blend. Their playing has plenty of energy. Yet the quartet can deliver quiet themes with delicate beauty. 

As a conductor, Bruno Walter did a great service to classical music. Based on these works, I wonder how much greater his contribution would have been had he continued to compose.

Bruno Walter: String Quartet; Piano Quintet
Aron Quartett; Massimo Giuseppe Bianchi, piano

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