what must be one of the most beautifully produced re-issue packages
that I have ever seen, Guild have given us a splendid treasure
in this reissue of the Otto Klemperer’s 1951 Mahler 2.. Audiences
flocked from all over the world to the Mahler festival from
which this performance derives. It is most notable for the presence
of the great British contralto Kathleen Ferrier, who at the
time was beginning to show symptoms of the cancer that was to
take her life at a tragically young age just two years later.
of the great singers of the twentieth century, Ferrier has now
passed into mythology, but unlike other artists who have died
young, there seems to be little if any evidence that the halo
that now shines around her memory is anything but absolutely
deserved. Ferrier was particularly known for her interpretations
of the music of Mahler, which at the time of her death, was
still only rarely performed in concert halls and even less often
recorded. It would take until the 1960s and the devoted and
driving personality of Leonard Bernstein to bring Mahler’s music
into worldwide acceptance.
he is not a conductor that immediately leaps to mind at the
mention of Mahler, Klemperer was one of the composer’s early
and significant champions, and brings the music to life with
not only great exhilaration, but also with a certain transparency.
He is careful with the thicker textures, seeing to it that the
appropriate instruments sing when called for. Even in the loudest
passages there is a complete sense of balance. I was also pleased
with Klemperer’s tempo choices, never so slow as to be lugubrious.
soloists turn in outstanding performances, Ferrier cutting right
to the heart of the texts, presenting the idea of the afterlife
with such radiance and hope. It is a shame that Jo Vincent,
an exemplary singer in her own right, is given so little recognition
in this release, but then again, the point here is to sell the
quality is on the whole very fine considering the source material.
On occasion we are hit with the repeated spin sound of a less
than flawless record; I am assuming from the sound of the background
noise that these are acetate discs and not vinyl or shellac.
There is a bit of drop out here and there, and the big choral
entrance is merely a wash of sound, with there being no text
comprehensibility whatever. This is to be expected given the
age and quality of the source discs.
is most impressive about this and nearly every other Guild release
that I have ever encountered is the superb documentation. This
is the way that all classical CDs should be presented; with
detailed essays on the artists and the music, factually accurate
and scholarly written, but without the academic mishmash and
the blow by blow descriptions of the music. I will confess that
I found Richard Caniell’s essay on Ferrier’s life and work just
a bit over the top in its gushing admiration of the artist,
but he is entitled to admire whomever he pleases, and there
is nothing wrong with being a bit effusive on a subject that
one finds exciting.
was also thrilled, given that I am a pretty big fan of early
radio, that the announcer’s commentaries were left intact, giving
us that wonderful “War of the Worlds” feeling that can only
come with placing oneself in the past, in front of an old radio,
thus gaining entrance into the theatre of the mind.
will not be a release with appeal for the casual listener. The
sound quality, exceptional as it is under the circumstances,
will be bothersome to those not specifically interested in historical
recordings. But for those of you who are historical enthusiasts,
jump on this beautiful release. It is a treasure well worth
the cash outlay.
see also Review
by Christopher Howell