The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
THE visits of foreign orchestras to London no longer excite .the interest nor arouse the shame in English musicians that they used to do less than ten years ago, before the B.B.C. and London Philharmonic Orchestras were formed. In those days the Londoner's only opportunity of hearing really first-rate orchestral performances was on the occasion of the visits of the Berlin, Vienna and Amsterdam Orchestras, and until those visits began our ears had become so accus- tomed to a poor standard of playing, that the efficiency of our visitors gave a severe shock to our complacency, and occasionally led to an overestimate of the merits of their performances—though no praise could have been too high for those given by the New York Orchestra under Toscanini. It was that series of three concerts that aroused our already awakened conscience to action, and made possible the creation in London of two new orchestras, which soon showed that English musicians could equal those of any other country in efficiency and art.
Although, therefore, the present visit of the Vienna Phil- harmonic Orchestra, who are engaged upon a tour of England, has not the same special interest as of old, it is none the less welcome because we can now regard these players not as iuperior beings to be gaped at, but from the standpoint of equals. At their first concert in London last week the orchestra played Schubert's Symphony in C major, No. 7, and pieces by Wagner. It seemed a pity that, having' come all this way from Vienna, the orchestra should not have concentrated wholly on works by the Viennese masters, but the Siegfried Idyll and the Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan served to remind us what a fine interpreter of Wagner Herr Walter is.
. In the matter of Schubert's Symphony I have a bone to pick with Herr Walter. It was surely unnecessary, in order to save a few minutes, to make two cuts in the slow movement, one of which involved a join so clumsy that even those who had never heard the work must have realized that something was wrong.. Even less excusable was the omission of the first repeat in the Scherzo, a short passage whose repetition is absolutely essential to the shape of the movement. This is not a pedantic objection. One would not claim that all Schubert's repeat marks must be scrupulously observed, and the omission of the second repeat in this movement is not unreasonable. In the case of the first, however, the ear in- stinctively craves for the return of the opening and feels cheated when the development begins straight away. There are two passages where Schubert miscalculated his orchestra- tion, covering up the wood-wind with too much brass and strings. One is the coda of the first movement, the other the Trio. The solution adopted by Herr Walter, in common with most other conductors, of giving the tune to the trumpet merely makes it sound vulgar. Here is an instance where a re-arrangement would be justified.
• The performance of the Symphony was excellent. Herr Walter knows exactly how to model phrases and make them sing, where to place the greatest weight in a movement, and, above all, how to impart rhythmic vitality to the music. Beside these virtues, his occasional lapses into heaviness and even into sentimentality are of small account. The orchestra itself is an efficient body, well-disciplined and flexible. Al- though the tone of the strings was less than brilliant, their playing was exceptionally clear and clean. The wood-wind were splendid, and it was an especial treat to hear a real hautboy-tone, steady and characteristic in place of the emasculated vibrato style which some of our players adopt. This style, although often beautiful in solo-passages and especially in the music of the later romantic composers, robs the instrument of its biting quality and is often dreadfully lachrymose in effect. Finally, the brass. Here one can admire the precision of attack, more easily obtained upon the wide- bore instruments used, while regretting that roundness and beauty of tone which our best players produce. There are, however, times when the brass ought to be brassy, and one of them is in the finale of Schubert's Symphony, that master- piece of grotesque.