Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Symphony No.3 in D minor (1895-96) [101:47]
Symphony No.10 (1910) – Adagio [22:40] and Purgatorio; edited Otto Jokl [4:03]
Hildegard Rössl-Majdan (alto)
Vienna Symphony Orchestra/F. Charles Adler
rec. 27 April 1952, Vienna (No.3) and 8 April, 1953, live (No.10)
MUSIC & ARTS CD-1249 [66:00 + 67:05]
The first recordings of Mahler’s Third and Sixth symphonies were made in the early 1950s conducted by London-born F. Charles Adler with the Vienna Symphony for the S.P.A. label. Incidentally the booklet note of this latest transfer of the Third goes into detail about the circumstances by which the Vienna Symphony became publicised as the Philharmonic, occasioning, understandably, the latter’s wrath. It was the use of the ‘Vienna Philharmonia Orchestra’ pseudonym that led to the Schwann catalogue mis-reading it as ‘Vienna Philharmonic’ with a subsequent burn-out and a speedy statement of the facts. That’s a historical curiosity, and I’m sure many might think the same of this studio recording, but not a bit of it. Bernstein, for one, is on record as having said he learned greatly from Adler’s recordings of Mahler. And at this time the Vienna Symphony was a fine and flexible orchestra working, it’s true, under a punishing regime of performances and recordings. Critics tend to snipe at the occasional pitch sag of winds and brass in their performances, not least – on occasion - here (though they’re rare). But it’s not surprising given how they were worked to the bone.
This is, in fact, a deeply humane, powerful cumulatively intense performance of the Third and it must figure in any discussion of the work’s appearance on disc, and not merely because of its status as a premiere recording. Adler had helped train the chorus for the premiere of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony and he has every right to be considered in the inner circle of Mahler’s musical colleagues of the time. In the Third one appreciates the hard working, sometimes stentorian tone of the Viennese horns, and the way Adler catches the Elysian march motifs – sample the rhythmic lift at around 11:20 in the first movement for example. The exchanges between the solo violin and horns - around 21:40 - are very well played and equally well balanced. The bucolic and tense elements of the writing are also well transmitted.
The fresh, direct and essentially unsentimentalised approach is another fruitful quality, exemplified by the Menuetto second movement, but when galumphing lower brass and evocative trumpet calls are needed, as they are in the Scherzando, the orchestra provides them. Hildegard Rössl-Majdan, too unheralded a musician these days, sings with breadth and nobility, and the solo violinist impresses once more in his accompanying line — was he Walter Schneiderhan, brother of the more famous Wolfgang? The boys’ chorus is fresh and suitably verdant too. The long final movement proves one of cumulative strength, and fine transitions. I’m sure one could object to a lack of string heft at points, but given the time, given the place and given the prevailing circumstances, the whole endeavour was pretty heroic and the results moving indeed.
The coupling is the problematic Tenth but not in the studio version Adler recorded. Instead we have the first release of a live broadcast from 8 April 1953, earlier than the studio traversal – which was itself by no means the premiere recording, in point of fact, unlike the Third and Sixth. We must also note that editorial responsibilities have over the years shifted and what was once confidently asserted to be Krenek’s editorship is now ascribed to Otto Jokl. There is a real edge in this performance of the Adagio and Purgatorio. The rather close miking does pick up single voices in the string choirs – especially in the first violins – but this is indicative of their commitment and intensity of phrasing. Accenting is strong, architecture secure, and this is another document well worth seeking out.
The booklet notes by Mark W. Kluge are really first class, packed with pertinent detail, and tell you all you need to know. Transfers are in the hands of Aaron Z. Snyder whose work I have praised here before, and do so again. I appreciate that the Third has been reissued several times, but this transfer, coupled with a previously unissued Tenth, makes big claims on the historically minded collector.
Makes big claims on the historically minded collector.