C1089. F. CHARLES ADLER Cond. Vienna S.O., w.Walter Schneiderhan (Vln), Eduard Koerner (post horn) & Hildegard Rössel-Majdan (MS): Symphony #3 in d (Mahler). (Canada) 2–St Laurent Studio YSL 33-018, recorded 1952. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
“I heard the Adler 3 on LP decades ago and it didn’t make much of an impression. When I saw this reissue, I wondered why it had come back. I thought of the Vienna Symphony, that dutiful but plain ensemble of so many early- 50s recordings with conductors who later became famous. And then there was Adler himself. I remembered him as a wealthy dilettante, someone who liked Mahler, thought it would be fun to pretend to conduct, and could afford to act out his whims. Mahler doesn’t need that.
My guess is that several of you reading this are nodding along so far and waiting for me to dispatch this poor creation mercifully and get on to the Mitropoulos. Sorry, but it doesn’t end that way this time. At the end of the symphony I just sat still for a while letting the wonderful 110 or so minutes that I just spent settle in my consciousness. So let’s do a little background first. The Vienna Symphony, which we all think of as the plain sister of the gorgeous Philharmonic, is the descendant of two orchestras, both founded at the beginning of the 20th Century, the Vienna Tonkünstler and the Vienna Concert Society, and probably, at the time of these recordings, 1952-1953, had players from the old Vienna Workers’ Symphony. It had a long history of performances of Mahler’s music and, when these recordings were made, was probably second only to the Concertgebouw in the number of Mahler performances it had given. In fact, it played Mahler 3 under Krips to resume its performances in September of 1945 and played it again in concerts under Scherchen in 1950 (there’s a Tahra recording). Furtwängler, Karajan, and Giulini have served as its music directors. As for those recordings, remember that they were made on very low budgets with musicians who were working around the clock in the grim place that was Vienna in the early 1950s. The remarkable thing is not how scrappy many of those performances were, but how good they were, given the circumstances. As for Adler, the story is a little more complex than what I wrote above. He was born to money and his banker father expected him to go into business. Instead, he studied at the Munich Conservatory, graduated in 1906, and fell into the Mahler orbit, preparing the chorus for the first performance of Symphony 8. He worked his way up the normal course for a German conductor, becoming music director of a small opera house, but was interned as an enemy alien during World War I. He picked up again after the war, but wisely fled to the US when Hitler came to power. He did not have great career success in the US, but married a socialite and lived in Saratoga Springs, NY, where he conducted a summer orchestra drawn from New York Philharmonic players. He eventually helped set up the SPA label after World War II and continued to conduct until his final illness.
But the real test is what comes out of the speakers. And what’s here is, over and over, the real thing. The first movement takes a moderate basic tempo and gives the detailing in the various episodes time to register. The whole giant structure hangs together perfectly—something that some more celebrated conductors could not manage. He gets the textures right as well: harsh and earthy, almost coarse, in the rough nature music, sweet and airy for the breezy material, familiar and relaxed for the folk elements. He has lots to work with here: the round woodiness of the clarinets, the sweet string playing, the great brass playing - something I never thought I would get to write about this orchestra! The trombone solos are sturdy and plain-spoken, not the display pieces they can be turned into. Yes, there are some odd moments of woodwind intonation and a transition or two that could be more elegant, but they scarcely matter. Mvt.II is charming without needing to keep reminding you how charming it is. The little song floats along. It seems not to care if you’re listening, but if you are, will happily while the time away. Mvt.III is even better. It starts off with a plainspoken Bohemian-woods sound that fits the music completely. But the real magic starts when we enter the world of Lenau. Mahler’s inspiration for part of this movement was a poem by the now-forgotten romantic poet about a ride on a coach and how in the middle of the ride, in the middle of the night, the coachman blows his horn in memory of a dead comrade and hears his friend’s answering horn call. Here the bassoon octaves are just right for horses clopping along as the light fades and we’re not in the everyday world any more. And then that haunting trumpet song appears with all the nostalgia of haunted romanticism in it. It fades, as all visions do, and we’re back in the hurly-burly of animal energy, but the memory of it persists. The Nietszche song is not as spooky and magical as the Boulez. Adler’s plainspokenness is not all to the good here, but Rössl-Majdan is lovely. The bell song is Adler back to his best. It’s lively and cheery, even if the storm isn’t quite the cataclysm that it is for Horenstein. The finale starts off with hushed playing and tonal beauty. It’s a broad tempo - 26 minutes to Mitropoulos’ 21 - and it works. Adler keeps a sense of forward, steady motion and lets things unfold. When he gets deeper into the movement and the eight-note theme is passed back and forth through the orchestra, I started to wonder. The strings sound very plain and almost matter-of-fact. Is he too slow? No. Adler is playing a long game here. He is building toward the huge question-and-answer climax of the movement and doesn’t want to distract along the way. There’s a famous wrong entry by the second violins (like the lost bassoon in the Klemperer Mahler 2) but I didn’t find it troubling. Sure enough, when the big stuff comes later, it is there in abundance, and the threat of the return of the chaos of the first movement sounds like a real one. The response is great. The quiet confidence builds to the sheer power and joy of the coda and what I once called the national anthem of heaven sounds, with joyful trumpets calling out above."
- Stephen D. Chakwin, Jr., AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE, Nov./Dec., 2011
“Each of these disks, from Canadian engineer Yves St Laurent… [feature] St Laurent's natural transfer – made without filtering, like all his dubbings – it is easy to listen to, despite the surface noise.”
- Tully Potter, CLASSICAL RECORD QUARTERLY, Summer, 2011