Eugene Istomin told his meeting with Bruno Walter in an interview with Bernard Meillat in 1987
“In 1958, I played the Schumann Concerto in a series of concerts with Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic. We were also supposed to record it, as we were both exclusive Columbia artists. It would be coupled with Chopin’s Second Concerto that I was to record soon with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Ormandy. Bernstein and I were close friends, but we hadn’t recorded anything yet, even though I had already played under his baton (Remember my debut with the New York Philharmonic!). Even if he was seven years older than me, I was very friendly with Lenny since we met at the Curtis Institute. He was already great! We weren’t intimate, but we had a great deal of mutual affection.
John Mc Clure, who was to run the recording, felt that associating Istomin and Bernstein was not very sexy for the disc. Bernstein-Gould, two flamboyant personalities, it was perfect! But Istomin and Bernstein was a bit like rosbeaf and mango compote. John Mc Clure, who was Bruno Walter’s artistic director for all his recordings, thought that an association with Walter would be a much better idea. I had this reputation of being a link between the generations, passing down the great tradition, with Busch and Casals. John Mc Clure sent to Bruno Walter my recording of the Brahms Handel Variations which had just been reissued on a 12 inch LP.
Bruno Walter, himself a great pianist, rarely conducted piano concertos on stage, and quite never in recording studios. The only one he recorded was Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto, twice, with Gieseking in 1934 and with Serkin in 1941. Walter answered at once with a postcard I have kept: ‘I listened. I understand why Casals is so enthusiastic about this young pianist. I’m willing to record with him anything you want.’ So we did the Schumann in January 1960. He was very easy to work with. Like Casals (they had exactly the same age), he had surpassed vanity and egotism, everything was simple. He was very happy with our recording, he told me in German that he found it “streng aber frei” (powerful but free). Then he proposed to record other concertos, suggesting Brahms 1 and Mozart 20, both in D minor, but I couldn’t accept. I wasn’t ready. I told him that it was too great a responsibility. This refusal was silly as for my career, but it was honest, and I don’t regret. A few years later I would be delighted to do it, but he was no more there. »
Schumann, Concerto. Columbia Symphony Orchestra. January 20 and 25, 1960.
Schumann, Concerto for piano and orchestra in A minor opus 54: first movement.
Eugene Istomin, piano. Columbia Symphony Orchestra. Recorded on January 20 and 25, 1960. Published by Columbia, CBS and then Sony.