Even if you’re not a fan of historic recordings
you simply have to make an exception where Bruno Walter’s Mahler
is concerned. His Vienna Ninth, made in the shadow of the Anschluss
is mandatory listening. Although I’ve never been entirely persuaded
by his Das Lied von der Erde
with Ferrier and Patzak (1952) it
should be on your shelves as well.
John Quinn spoke in glowing terms of Walter’s Columbia Symphony
Orchestra First and Ninth from 1961, also remastered by Andrew Rose,
although he was equivocal about the sonic gains of Pristine’s
XR process (review
Certainly some audiophiles feel Rose is too interventionist, and as
this is the first Pristine release to come my way I’m curious
to hear if these criticisms are warranted.
First impressions are entirely positive; the opening fanfare is as seismic
as ever and there’s a sense of ‘air’ around the orchestra
that one seldom hears in recordings of this vintage. Plucked lower strings
are full and warm, and the cymbals have just enough sizzle. Walter’s
speeds are on the brisk side, but then he’s always had a clear-eyed
- even purposeful - approach to these scores that’s very refreshing
after the expressive liberties taken by more recent interpreters. The
orchestral playing is good too, even if the timps sound like steel drums
at times, and Walter judges the ebb and flow of the Trauermarsch
very well indeed.
The emphatic start to the Stürmisch bewegt
ushers in a crisp
and propulsive reading of the second movement; perhaps rhythms aren’t
as yielding as some, but they’re never less than beguiling. One
of the advantages of this re-mastering is that the bass has little of
the diffusing ‘boom’ one usually hears in 78rpm direct-to-disc
recordings. Indeed, the entire aural spectrum emerges with surprising
naturalness and rare character; if added realism and a wonderfully unfatiguing
sound are what critics don’t like about Rose’s ‘interventionist’
methods then I’d suggest they’re very much mistaken. Just
sample those glorious paroxysms at the close of the second movement,
for they are rendered with uncommon thrill, clarity and splendour.
Forgive me if I spend less time on the performance - a given in this
case - and more on the sonics, but then the USP of these remasters is
that they offer a more rewarding experience for the listener. The skittish
has real sparkle - there are no qualms about rhythms
here - and Mahler’s orchestral colours are well caught. If, like
me, you are easily distressed by wiry strings you’ll be pleasantly
surprised by the much silkier sounds on offer here. True, the depth
of the soundstage is rather limited - even Rose’s wizardry can’t
conceal that - but such is the level of detail that this matters not
is warm, with a nicely sustained line,
and while this love music lacks the gossamer lightness and tonal lustre
that modern recording techniques can provide it’s still very satisfying.
For the first time the massed strings are a little steely and the bass
verges on the cavernous, but it’s hardly a deal-breaker. As for
the Rondo - Finale it’s quick and surefooted, although it’s
not as trenchant as modern rivals. Then again, that’s never been
Walter’s way; that said, the oft-quoted kindliness and gentle
mien of this iconic figure result in performances that won’t always
please those used to the big, hard-hitting Mahler style to which we’ve
become accustomed. Still, few could quibble with Walter’s grandeur
and thrust in the symphony’s closing pages.
I’m most impressed by this Pristine re-master - you would never
guess it was a lowly 78rpm original - and I just wish more historical
recordings were this painstakingly done. Couple ear-friendly sonic gains
with the convenience of downloadable mp3s, 16- and 24-bit FLACs - the
latter with full orchestral scores - and this Pristine issue becomes
very desirable indeed.
A mandatory Mahler Fifth superbly re-mastered; don’t miss.
Masterwork Index: Mahler