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
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.
Masterwork Index: Mahler 4