Guild have already
issued this performance and reviews
(from 2002) can be found above. It certainly
says much for their idealism that, having
discovered a better sound source than
those formerly known, instead of just
shrugging their shoulders and saying
"if only we’d known …", they
have produced a new edition. They have
also taken the opportunity to correct
the date, previously given as 6 July,
and since I don’t find the excess of
apostrophes of which my colleague Jonathan
Woolf complained, the booklet has evidently
been revised too.
I must confess I haven’t
heard the previous issues, but I can
report that though the sound is constricted
– rather as you would have heard it
on a small but goodish medium-wave radio
set of the day – detail and balance
in the first three movements is remarkably
clear. It would be idle to pretend that
you get more than a rough impression
of what’s going on in the cataclysmic
parts of the finale – even modern technology
is tested to the limit here – but the
sound doesn’t actually buckle under
and packs a considerable punch. There’s
the sort of husky sound to the strings
which I’ve always associated with excessive
de-hissing and de-noising, but since
a technical note assures us that all
such intervention has been kept to the
minimum precisely to avoid such effects,
evidently this was a characteristic
of the original tape.
That there is so much
clarity except under extreme pressure
says much for the performance itself.
Klemperer conducts a remarkably "modern",
proto-Boulezian interpretation, rigorously
phrased and balanced with a sort of
no-nonsense spring to the rhythms that
put me in mind of neo-classical Stravinsky.
It is remarkable that the orchestra
whose strings had been, under Mengelberg,
the unrivalled masters of "vocal"
portamento and flexible phrasing has
been scrubbed as clean as a whistle
except where Mahler has actually marked
"glissando" in the score.
These are all scrupulously observed,
implying that such devices are not an
inherent part of the Mahler style, as
they seem to be when Bruno Walter (or
Barbirolli or Kubelik) conducts this
music, but applied externally, in quotation
marks as it were, as elements of parody.
In keeping with the modern conception,
the temperature is fairly cool except
in the apocalyptic moments; here Klemperer
is truly fearsome.
brass playing later on is not on the
level of the rest. There has been some
good quiet trumpet playing in the first
three movement but for some reason the
brass chords at the opening of "Urlicht"
are loud and crude, suggestive of a
second-rate Salvation Army band – the
first trumpet has a vibrato which I’ve
never previously associated with the
Concertgebouw. Klemperer is generally
unmagical in this movement so Kathleen
Ferrier’s admirers - no other performance
is preserved - are going to wish they
could hear her in a different context.
Ferrier didn’t enjoy working with Klemperer
("he shouts like a madman")
but sings with rock-steady professionalism
and of course her timbre is unmistakeable.
Her later interventions are brief and
tend to be drowned by the insensitive
trumpet-playing. Jo Vincent sings well
without leaving any particular impression.
Mahler 2 was very much
a Klemperer speciality and at least
eight versions exist, beginning with
a Sydney performance from 1950. From
the same year as the Concertgebouw version
was his first studio recording, for
Vox, with Steingruber, Rössl-Majdan
and the VSO. Ten years later came the
renowned 1961 Philharmonia recording
for EMI, with Schwarzkopf and Rössl-Majdan.
From 1963 comes a live VSO performance
with Vishnevskaya and, once again, Rössl-Majdan,
and another Philharmonia one with Heather
Harper and Dame Janet Baker which is
out on Testament. EMI have challenged
themselves by issuing a live version
from Munich with Bavarian Radio forces
and Harper and Baker again as soloists.
A later New Philharmonia taping (1971)
with Finley and Hodgson is listed but
may not have been issued. Those who
wish to study Klemperer’s interpretation
- still among the most imposing ever
- will presumably choose the classic
EMI studio issue, in good stereo sound
for its date and in the running for
a top version anyway. For those wishing
to supplement it with a version from
Klemperer’s slightly wilder earlier
days (about five minutes shorter), the
presence of Kathleen Ferrier and the
fact that it is live seem to make this
the most enticing of the three possible
choices. For fans of Ferrier, whatever
the problems this is the only performance
they’ll ever hear.
Richard Caniell’s presentations
in these Guild historical issues are
usually informative and by no means
afraid to criticise aspects of the performances.
In this case his adulation of Ferrier
has led him to love "not wisely,
but too well". Try this for size:
art, Mahler’s genius, this performance
of the Resurrection, the following
and final occasion in which she sang
good-bye to her beloved earth in Das
Lied von der Erde, we know that
she and Mahler, together, have conquered
darkness with light, sordidness with
beauty and all the brawling, warring
aspects of human existence with a higher
truth which exists outside of time.
Ferrier passed away, we pass on after
her, but Mahler’s music and Ferrier’s
voice – these are imperishable".
The trouble is that
the mockers and debunkers are out on
Ferrier – notably David Hurwitz, but
I’m not always an out-and-out admirer
myself – so it seems a pity to throw
a hostage to fortune in this way.