Bruno Walter, the great Jewish conductor, didn't leave his job as the music director of the Munich Opera because he wasn't an artistic and financial success in the Bavarian capital. With his highly regarded and well-attended performances of Mozart and Wagner, plus a host of triumphant world premieres, Walter was certainly a success in what one might have thought as the only applicable criteria. But, in point of fact, Walter was a tremendous failure in the one thing that trumps art and money: religious and ethnic intolerance. Throughout his decade there, Walter had been relentlessly insulted and denigrated in the anti-Semitic press, and disgusted, he finally left Munich in 1922. Although he occasionally returned to the city as guest conductor of the Munich Philharmonic, Walter spent most of the next decade leading the Berlin Opera. He left Germany altogether when Hitler took power there -- and then left Europe altogether when Hitler took power there. During the war, Walter wrote to a friend, "I consider a forgiving reconciliation through the reestablishment of cultural ties undesirable for a fairly long time...injured humanity has a right to impose a waiting time and quarantine."
In 1950, Walter judged that the waiting period was over for Munich and the Bavarisches Staatsorchester, so he returned to the city for a single concert on October 2, his first concert in the National Theater in 28 years. And in a rehearsal hall -- the building's main hall was destroyed during the war and had still not been rebuilt -- Walter and the Bavarians created performances of Schubert's "Unfinished" and Mahler's First of enormous strength, immense sympathy, and tremendous soul. The Bavarians' playing is sometimes a bit rough -- the strings might be more suave in Schubert's opening Andante moderato, the winds could be less gawky in Mahler's opening Langsam, and the brass should be more polished in Mahler's final peroration -- but that hardly matters in comparison with the admiration, dedication, and even affection the Bavarians show Walter. Under Walter, whatever the slight technical flaws, the warmth of the Schubert and the passion of the Mahler are awe-inspiring. While most listeners may still prefer Walter's canonical recordings of the works with the New York Philharmonic, any listener who knows and loves those performances will want to hear these Bavarian recordings. It will restore their faith in the human spirit.