This famous performance was given at the Holland Festival in 1951. It’s not a newcomer to CD. I’m sure that, years ago, Decca issued it on CD and I’m pretty sure that I heard that transfer and thought the sound rather primitive. I then acquired a version issued by Guild (“Guild I”) which was described as ‘a CD issue of the sonics untouched by engineering “enhancements”’ (review
). Since then Guild has issued another version of this same performance, transferred from a different and apparently better source (“Guild II”).
I haven’t heard that disc but, to judge by the comments by Christopher Howell (review
) it sounds as if it represents a marked improvement on Guild I. If you have a copy of Guild I you can distinguish it because the date of the performance is given, incorrectly, as 6 July 1951; Guild II corrects this mistake.
I’m not sure how fair it is to make comparisons between this new Pristine issue and Guild I version since the Guild copy I possess clearly no longer represents their best endeavours in the field. However, I think it’s fair to report that, on comparing Guild I with this new Pristine transfer, I felt that Pristine offer a much more comfortable listening experience. Writing of Guild II, Christopher Howell reported that “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.” I believe that’s also a pretty fair summary of the experience offered by Guild I. One must respect the stance of Guild in offering a transfer in which intervention is kept to the minimum. However, unless you’re a purist in such matters I believe that the Pristine transfer offers a better listening experience. It seems to me that Andrew Rose has done a fine job in re-mastering this recording and in imparting clarity and warmth to the sound.
The performance is a remarkable one, especially in the first movement, which is really urgent. When he recorded the symphony commercially for EMI in 1961/2 – a justly famous recording (review
) – Klemperer took 19:02 for this movement. Here, he is electrifying and gets through the music most excitingly in 17:42. Just out of interest I looked at two other live recordings that I’ve reviewed in the past. In 1957 Bruno Walter took 21:30 for the first movement (review
) while Tennstedt’s 1989 reading stretches the music over an astonishing 25:02 (review
). In their very different ways all of these are enthralling performances but, in my experience, Klemperer in 1951 takes the palm for urgency.
The second movement is played with a good lightness of touch – and here, in the more relaxed ambience of this movement, I found that the Guild sound had less edge than elsewhere. A major attraction of this performance has always been the only opportunity to hear Kathleen Ferrier’s singing in this symphony. She’s fervent and full-toned in ‘Urlicht’. Pristine’s transfer gives, I think, the fairest representation of what the Concertgebouw Orchestra’s brass players actually sounded like on the day when playing the chorale. The warmth of the Pristine transfer presents Ferrier’s voice in the best possible light given the sonic limitations of the original source.
As Christopher Howell indicated, parts of the vast finale strain the technical resources even of today’s recording techniques, let alone those of sixty years ago. However, Pristine’s transfer copes pretty well with passages such as the volcanic outburst at the very start of the movement. Incidentally, the finale plays for 29:56 but Pristine separate it into two tracks, the break coming after 12:42. When the members of the Holland Festival Chorus sing their first entry their sound is impressively hushed and the sound of the choir is well reported here. At the other end of the dynamic spectrum the huge sound of the last few minutes is also quite faithfully reported. There is no applause at the end – Guild, as is their wont, recreate the experience of listening to the original broadcast by including not only applause but also the introductory radio announcement; I rather like that.
This is an often electrifying account of Resurrection
and a fascinating – and very different – supplement to Klemperer’s studio recording. That, in itself, makes it a highly desirable addition to the libraries of Mahler aficionados. In addition, nowhere else can you hear Kathleen Ferrier in this work and her soprano colleague, Jo Vincent, is equally well worth hearing. Sonically, this is the best transfer of the performance that I’ve heard.