Leonard Bernstein, Vol. VII - Mahler 2nd;  Lorna Haywood & Christa Ludwig   (2-St Laurent Studio YSL T-847)
Item# C1706
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Leonard Bernstein, Vol. VII - Mahler 2nd;  Lorna Haywood & Christa Ludwig   (2-St Laurent Studio YSL T-847)
C1706. LEONARD BERNSTEIN Cond. Cleveland Orch., w.Lorna Haywood & Christa Ludwig: 'Resurrection' Symphony #2 in c (Mahler). (Canada) 2-St Laurent Studio stereo YSL T-847, Live Performance, 9 July, 1970, Blossom Music Festival; Brief interview with Leonard Bernstein before the performance. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.


“Because people know that I have been professionally involved with music for more than fifty years, I am asked all too often whether I have a ‘greatest’ or ‘favorite’ concert. I usually explain, tactfully, that the question is pointless, that music is not sports with rankings, etc. What, however, would my answer be if someone pointed a gun at my head? I am almost certain that I would choose the two days in July, 1970, when I had the privilege of observing the dress rehearsal and performance of the Mahler ‘Resurrection’ Symphony under review. It has stayed in my memory ever since, and I am thrilled to find that Bernstein’s matchless performance has now been released publicly. Just as importantly for me personally, rehearing it after such a long absence, was not a disappointment. It completely lived up to my expectations.

About ten years ago at a Cleveland Orchestra concert, I was speaking with their current music director, Franz Welser-Möst, and I said something to the effect of ‘You know, your orchestra provided me with one of the most thrilling concert experiences I’ve ever had’. Without missing a beat, he said, ‘Lenny’s Mahler Second’. Knowing that Welser-Möst was not quite 10 years old when the concert took place, I asked him how he could possibly have guessed. He replied that the musicians still talked about it with reverence. More recently, Giancarlo Guerrero, who has a long relationship with the Cleveland Orchestra as music director of its Florida residency, confirmed that the surviving musicians still talk about it as being something of a unique event, something greater than their many other fine concerts.

The sad irony is that as it was taking place, the person responsible for the quality of the Cleveland Orchestra, George Szell, lay dying in a local hospital. He had only three weeks left to live. There are reports that Bernstein tried to visit him but was not able to get in because Szell’s condition was so grave that he was permitted no visitors.

What I thought I heard in 1970, and now know I heard, is the unique combination of Leonard Bernstein’s interpretive gift, his improvisatory approach, and a driven intensity alongside the incredible precision and elegance of the Cleveland Orchestra’s playing. I cannot recall another live Bernstein recording (and many of his recordings are live) that is as well played (with the possible exception of his Chicago Shostakovich Seventh, and that one was edited from more than one performance). We experience razor-sharp attacks and the kind of ensemble which makes it clear that every musician is listening to every other musician, no matter what liberty Bernstein employs. His knowledge of Mahler’s score is, of course, legendary - he conducted the dress rehearsal with no music in front of him and made corrections knowing the cues and bar numbers of every passage. It seems clear that he felt safe taking any chances that came into his mind as he was conducting.

In terms of overall timing, this performance falls slightly north of the midpoint in Mahler Second timings, including for Bernstein himself. His earliest recorded performance, a Boston Symphony broadcast from March, 1949, times in at 79:53. His last New York Philharmonic recording, for DG in 1988, is 93:28. The Cleveland one is 87:54 (the extra timing in the headnote is for the brief post-concert radio interview with him). At any given moment one might find the tempo uniquely slow or fast, as this was definitely a reading of extremes. But, as with the best of Bernstein’s work, it all holds together. Through careful tempo adjustments and dynamic shading, no change is ever jerky or jarring.

This is one of those rare performances where you sense that every single person on the stage, from the conductor and vocal soloists to the last-stand second violinist, is deeply inspired. There is a lovely and sensitive use of portamento in the strings throughout, particularly in the second movement. The hushed choral entrance in the finale is singularly beautiful. The quiet string playing and the explosive brass are all convincing, as is everything in between those extremes. Bernstein and the musicians are keenly aware of the dynamic gradations between mezzo-piano and mezzo-forte, so this is not a performance solely about extremes. The final chords are positively apocalyptic, the ultimate release of the tension built up over the entire symphony.

The recorded sound is quite acceptable for a 1970 stereo FM-radio broadcast. Because the Blossom Center is an outdoor facility, the miking has to be rather close to minimize outside noises, and there is also a sense of slight compression. But St. Laurent Studio has done its usual superb job of transferring the source material, which is clearly better than the underground version that has circulated for years among those of us who qualify as zealots about this performance. Also as usual, St. Laurent Studio provides no notes but sufficient documentation.

There are certainly other Mahler Second Symphony recordings with more splendid digitally recorded sound, but if I were on that mythical desert island where I could take only one recording with me, and it would be the Mahler Second I had to listen to for the rest of my life, I would not hesitate to choose this one. I remember that night in 1970 as if it was yesterday, and I also remember thinking at the time ‘This is why we go to concerts, hoping to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience like this’. That it is now available to anyone who wishes to have it is a gift from St. Laurent Studio to all of us. To overlook this release is to deprive yourself of musical greatness.”

- Henry Fogel, FANFARE

"This is probably the the most exciting recording of this work in the last two decades!"

- Owen Kneebone, New Zealand

“Bernstein was ‘one of the most prodigiously talented and successful musicians in American history’. He is quite possibly the conductor whose name is best known to the public in general, especially the American public. His fame derived from his long tenure as the music director of the New York Philharmonic, from his conducting of concerts with most of the world's leading orchestras, and from his music for WEST SIDE STORY, as well as CANDIDE, WONDERFUL TOWN, ON THE TOWN and his own MASS. Bernstein was also the first conductor to give numerous television lectures on classical music, starting in 1954 and continuing until his death. In addition, he was a skilled pianist, often conducting piano concertos from the keyboard.

In 1960 Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic held a Mahler Festival to mark the centenary of the composer's birth. Bernstein, Walter and Mitropoulos conducted performances. The composer's widow, Alma, attended some of Bernstein's rehearsals. The success of [Bernstein’s Mahler] recordings, along with Bernstein's concert performances and television talks, was an important part of the revival of interest in Mahler in the 1960s, especially in the US.

In 1964 Bernstein conducted Franco Zeffirelli's production of Verdi's FALSTAFF at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. In 1966 he made his début at the Vienna State Opera conducting Luchino Visconti's production of the same opera with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau as Falstaff. He returned to the State Opera in 1968 for a production of DER ROSENKAVALIER and in 1970 for Otto Schenk's production of Beethoven's FIDELIO. Sixteen years later, at the State Opera, Bernstein conducted his sequel to TROUBLE IN TAHITI, A QUIET PLACE, with the ORF orchestra."

- Donal Henahan, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 15 Oct., 1990

“Lorna Haywwod made her debut at Juilliard as Katya Kabanova. She made her Covent Garden debut in 1966 in DIE ZAUBERFLÖTE and sang Jenufa in 1972. She sang with the English National Opera from 1970, notably in Leoš Janácek's THE MAKROPOULUS CASE and KATYA KABANOVA. In the USA her opera appearances include those with the Chicago Lyric Opera, the San Francisco Opera, the Dallas Civic, the Baltimore Lyric, and the Pacific Northwest Festival in Seattle, and the companies of New Orleans, Washington, D.C., San Diego, Forth Worth, Columbus, Toledo, Atlanta and Honolulu. In Europe she has sung frequently at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, the English National Opera, the Welsh National Opera, and the Scottish Opera. Regarded as a leading interpreter of the operas of Leoš Janácek, she has sung this repertory in London, New York, San Francisco, Johannesburg and Prague. She has also appeared as a guest in Brussels. Other roles include Marenka in THE BARTERED BRIDE, Mimi, Micaela, Sieglinde, Elizabeth Zimmer in ELEGY FOR YOUNG LOVERS, Mozart's Countess, Madama Butterfly, Ariadne, the Marchallin and Lady Billows in BILLY BUDD.

Lorna Haywood made her American debut as soloist with Robert Shaw . She has sung with most of America's major symphony orchestras, including the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Her orchestral and concert appearances in the UK include those with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Hallé Orchestra, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, and City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Summer festival appearances include Blossom, Meadowbrook, Aspen, Tanglewood, Grant Park, Cincinnati, Glyndebourne, Aldeburgh, Edinburgh, and London's Promenade Concerts in the Royal Albert Hall. She sang with the Handel Society in Washington, D.C., the Music of the Baroque in Chicago, at the Baldwin-Wallace College Bach Festival (1998), and was soprano soloist with the Bach Aria Group for two years.”

- Bach Cantatas Website

“There are great singers, and there are great artists. A great singer needs an exceptional voice, a masterful technique and the musicianship to conquer the most challenging repertoire. A true artist, of course, possesses these attributes, but there is something more - a soul-deep connection to the expressive content of the music; a sort of telepathic sympathy with the composer and a yearning to communicate that fire of inspiration to anyone who will listen. Christa Ludwig was blessed with all these things, and the opera world has been blessed in turn by her unerring ability to understand the characters she played, and to carry their joys and sorrows to the audience with such humanity and tenderness that we could not help taking her into our hearts. The beauty, warmth and radiance of her instrument seem inseparable from the beauty, warmth and radiance of the human spirit that breathes forth that wondrous sound. She made thrilling forays into dramatic-soprano territory, singing the Marschallin as well as Octavian in DER ROSENKAVALIER and giving performances of Leonore in FIDELIO that are now the stuff of legend. Perhaps most famously, she partnered her then-husband Walter Berry as the Dyer's Wife in DIE FRAU OHNE SCHATTEN.

Her Met début in 1959, as Cherubino, was not a great triumph, but by the time she bade farewell to the house, as Fricka in 1993 - her 119 performances of fifteen roles had made her one of the most beloved artists in the company's history.”

- Louise T. Guinther, OPERA NEWS, April 2014