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Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Symphony No.1 in D Titan (1888 rev 1893, 1896-98) [50:28]
Symphony No.2 in C minor Resurrection (1884-86 rev 1893-96) [80:55]
Nadine Conner (soprano); Mona Paulee (mezzo)
Westminster Choir
Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York/Bruno Walter
rec. 25 October 1942 (No.1) and 25 January 1942 (No.2) Carnegie Hall, NYC
MUSIC & ARTS CD-1264 [73:28 + 58:49]

Experience Classicsonline

These 1942 performances are making their first commercial release. That in itself should be a matter for celebration, but the fact that the executant and interpretative mark is set so high should cause even ardent Walter admirers, who think they have this repertoire covered, to reappraise the situation.
I was very interested to read that Victor Records had planned to record Bruno Walter conducting Mahler’s Second Symphony during his stint with the New York Philharmonic- Symphony Orchestra in early 1933. Unfortunately the plan fell through. After Otto Klemperer’s performance in 1935 the orchestra was not to play the work again until the performance disinterred here by Music & Arts. The sonics are inevitably faded, although Aaron Z Snyder has done his usual excellent job. But whatever the question of sonics, this in no way limits the overwhelming intensity of this performance and the exceptionally high standard of the NYPSO’s playing. Nadine Conner is the mezzo, Mona Paulee the mezzo and the Westminster Choir, one of America’s very finest at the time, sings in English. As a performance it is significantly more intense and visceral than Walter’s later 1957/58 LP and shows no signs of any sentimentalised vision, a critical view that still clings to Walter’s Mahler conducting in some quarters. As with most musicians Walter was not an unchanging, unresponsive recreative artist: circumstances, new orchestras, personal events, his own health, all impinged in some way. How else does one explain the significant divergent aesthetic responses given some fifteen years apart?
One senses from the start that the architectural imperatives of the music will not be imperilled in this reading; there is true seriousness of symphonic purpose in this performance. Walter willed a 90 second pause after this first movement — shorter than Mahler’s 5 minute instruction, but a lot more faithful than most. In this transfer that minute and a half has been reduced to 39 seconds. The music is driven quite hard in places but never breathlessly; the players invariably have time to articulate. Both singers contribute materially to the success of the performance and the chorus blazes intensely, abetted by the Carnegie Hall organ.
The companion symphony is the First, recorded live on 25 October 1942. The orchestra had played the work a year and a half earlier under Mitropoulos. Music & Arts has already released Walter’s NBC reading from 1939 [CD-1241] where he did have to teach the orchestra the work as they’d never played it. Given that fact, the results were impressive but they rather pale into, if not insignificance, then at least relief when confronted by this overwhelming NYPSO performance. Again, what may surprise listeners is Walter’s sense of directionality, the rhythmic vitality that launches Mahler’s writing so viscerally. He certainly characterises what he called Mahler’s ‘eruptive forces’ with genuine tension and not a little element of headlong despair in places. This is a more-than-worthy adjunct to Walter’s studio recording of 1954. Indeed in terms of volatility and a cutting away of excess, it is very largely its superior. Only if the sonic question detains you, should you prefer that tamer later reading, though there are, or were, at least eight preserved Walter performances of this symphony now on CD.
With an excellent booklet note and those Snyder restorations these are major finds, ones that have been brought to fruition with great care and thought.
Jonathan Woolf

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