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Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
CD 1 [66:22]
Symphony No.6 in A Minor (1903-05) - Andante [14:24]
Cologne Radio WDR Orchestra/Dimitri Mitropoulos, rec. 31 August 1959
Symphony No. 9 (1909) - Adagio [21:07]
New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra/Dimitri Mitropoulos, rec. 23 January 1960
Symphony No.8 in E flat “Symphony of a Thousand” (1910) Part 1
CD 2 [59:51]
Symphony No.8 in E flat “Symphony of a Thousand” (1910) Part II
Mimi Coertse, Hilde Zadek (sopranos), Lucretia West, Ira Malaniuk (altos), Giuseppe Zampieri (tenor), Hermann Prey (baritone), Otto Edelmann (bass)
Vienna Boys Choir, Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsoper, Singverein der Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Dimitri Mitropoulos 
rec. 28 August 1960, Felsenreitschule, Salzburg
IMMORTAL PERFORMANCES IPCD 1005-2 [66:22 + 59:51]
Experience Classicsonline

Here is Mitropoulos’s famed Salzburg Eighth Symphony, but in a new transfer. It’s been out before on Music & Arts and on Orfeo [C 519 992B], amongst others. The notes also mention the fake stereo Everest which I’ve not heard, and the usual plethora of pirates. For this transfer no such devices, including false echo, have been imposed and a great deal of work seems to have been involved in rectifying certain problems; Immortal Performances’ Richard Caniell specifically mentions the compression imposed by broadcast limiters and his team has obviously been engaged in a sonic battle with dynamic ranges, amongst other concerns.

The result sounds good. I don’t hear the distortions that afflicted previous transfers, and the balance rectifications seem to have been carried out with some discretion. All this is in the service of a performance of considerable significance, though one not without ancillary interpretative question marks. These relate essentially to the schema Mitropoulos imposes which is, in essence, one of a cumulative tightening of the screw between the two parts, rather as if a languid Part 1 of The Dream of Gerontius were to be followed by a Malcolm Sargent derived intensity in Part 2. The effect cannot but seem somewhat binary, but it is clearly a well shaped one that demands to be taken seriously on its own terms.

There is a strong sense of restraint in Veni, Creator Spiritus but it can also be said that the care with which Mitropoulos delineates balances results in a highly effectively wrought Infirma nostril corporis. There is little or no muddiness in the vocal strands here or indeed throughout. The evident sense of somewhat dispassionate control that the conductor exercises earlier in Part I is gradually released for the Gloria Patri Domino which, if not as overwhelming as it can be, is nevertheless the logical result of the steadily building intensity Mitropoulos has earlier prepared.

Part II completes the journey, but in a way that serves to drive the argument home more powerfully still. The orchestral playing is not without blemish but only the most pernickety will mind, given the very distinctive patina explored by the magnificent Vienna basses and the thrilling playing of their horn colleagues. There is some luminous string playing in the orchestral Mater Gloriosa schwebt einher.

The singers make for a most impressive group, whether singly or together; they marry technical surety, for the most part, with a candid expressive eloquence. One might perhaps anticipate that in the case of, say, Prey and Zadek, but Giuseppe Zampieri impresses just as much and so too Ira Malaniuk; it’s invidious to mention names as they all sing with great authority. Altogether then this is a performance that may seem to burn slowly but which generates power through its very reserve. It stands tall in the annals of the symphony on record, though invariably sonic and other questions make it an ancillary purchase.

As with Orfeo a second disc is required. In IP’s case isolated movements have been culled from other Mitropoulos performances. The choice has been well made, even if collectors will doubtless fret at the duplication necessary. The Cologne Sixth is represented by the Andante, a marvellous performance almost fit to rank beside the New York traversal. It’s been around a good number of times; EMI and Music & Arts [CD 1021] have both released it. The Ninth is the NYPO January 1960 reading, and we hear, inevitably, the Adagio, a performance of incredible malleability, directness, speed and overwhelming power.

The Eighth Symphony sounds first class in this restoration and admirers can safely sample its particular strengths.

Jonathan Woolf 
 
 


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