> MAHLER Das Lied Walter 1936 [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- Sept 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)

Das Lied von der Erde

Symphony No 5 – Adagietto
Ruckert Lieder – Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen
Kerstin Thorborg, contralto
Charles Kullmann, tenor
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Bruno Walter
Recorded 1936-38
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.110850 [72’02]


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One is spoilt for choice when it comes to Walter’s pioneering Mahler recordings of 1936 and 1938. Both Pearl (Gemm CD 9413) and this Naxos disc share the same programme, whilst Dutton CDEA 5014 and Music and Arts CD 749 substitute Kullmann’s English language Ich atmet’ einem linden duft (a fine performance, Sargent conducting, from the well-known Columbia History of Music series) in place of Thorborg’s Viennese recording from the Ruckert Lieder, of which more below.

Walter had conducted the premiere of Das Lied von der Erde in 1911 and famously recorded it three times – for Decca in 1951 and CBS in 1960. This 1936 live recording always suffered from a slightly confined and boxy acoustic and there are some accidental orchestral slips along the way – violins in Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde and horns in Der Einsame in Herbst. The distractions are minor however and Thorborg proves a musician of exceptional interiority of conception, serious without sentimentality; her Abschied is one of spiritual engagement of the profoundest kind without ever seeking to bloat the music beyond its natural bounds. Kullmann is fresh voiced and ardent, a communicative and extrovert artist whilst Walter indulges some noticeable rhythmic licence in a way that became progressively less palpable as he aged. One can also hear his excitable groans and foot stamps at various choice moments.

The Adagietto, recorded in 1938, clocks in at 8’10 and is an urgent, passionately alive performance which differs markedly from his subsequent performance of the Symphony, an obvious historical corrective to dubious indulgence, and one in which seamless rubato is to the fore. Thorborg’s way with Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen is truly beautiful. This is singing of concentrated gravity breathtaking to hear. As I said these classic performances are widely available. This Naxos disc however, continues the consistently high standard of their Historical series and has cogent and helpful notes from Richard Whitehouse.

Jonathan Woolf


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