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Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Symphony No.4 in G major (1892, 1899-1900 rev 1901-10) [53:38]
Paul DUKAS (1865-1935)
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (1897) [10:52]
Sena Jurinac (soprano)
Vienna Symphony Orchestra/Karl Rankl
rec. live 23 January 1954, Goldener Saal, Musikverein, Vienna
GUILD GHCD2397 [64:49]

At their very first concert after the end of the War, the Vienna Symphony dusted down its copies of Mahler’s Third Symphony - absent from their repertoire for some time for obvious reasons - and performed it in the Brave New World. The date was 16 September 1945, and the programming was a statement. Josef Krips directed, and it was Krips and Hans Swarowsky who were to direct the orchestra’s fortunes. They built a resilient orchestra through the Harry Lime years when recording sessions came thick and fast and the hard-working band churned out session after session for concerts, radio broadcast and for recording studios.
Karl Rankl was Viennese-born, in 1898, and his success, boosted by becoming Klemperer’s assistant at the legendary Kroll Opera House, led to a period in Graz and then in Prague, where he led the New German Theatre company. His work in London is better remembered. He had escaped to Britain in the nick of time and was duly interned on the Isle of Man in 1940. He was appointed musical director at Covent Garden in 1946, and thus became one in a long line of conductors - native and foreign - to earn Thomas Beecham’s boorish abuse. But he returned to Vienna between 1949 and 1954 to conduct the Vienna Symphony and in January 1954 he and the VSO taped Mahler’s Fourth Symphony for radio broadcast. It’s a rare example of live Rankl and comes from that extensive Radio Rot-Weiss-Rot archive of broadcasts that is slowly being made available - see, for example, the Charles Adler Mahler and Bruckner broadcast material.
The performance is at all times direct and unmannered. Lyrically conceived it’s strongly structured so that there is no sense of indulgence, either in terms of rubati or false gesture. There’s a sure command of line and balance - the VSO winds are pleasingly characterful - and whilst ensemble is not infallible, little imprecisions count for little given the communicative elegance of the direction and playing. There’s suitable warmth in the orchestral solos and even thought the winds may, on occasion, seem to overbalance proper ensemble, it’s never gauchely done. The soprano soloist is the esteemed Sena Jurinac and she brings plenty of tonal breadth to bear and is also quite forwardly placed too. She had made her Covent Garden in the same year that Rankl was made music director, so the two had worked together.
Coupled with the Mahler is, by some quixotic turn of programming Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. It receives a feisty reading and it’s thoroughly engaging to hear - but what a strange pairing.
The performances have been admirably engineered and presented, and the booklet’s documentation is first-class too.
Jonathan Woolf
Masterwork Index: Mahler 4