C1721. JEAN MARTINON Cond. Chicago Orchestra, w. Regina Resnik: Symphony #3 in d (Mahler). (Canada) 2-St Laurent Studio YSL T-872, Live Performance, 23-25 March, 1967, Orchestra Hall. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
“Not a great deal of Jean Martinon’s Mahler survives on disc, and around the time of this live performance of the Third Symphony from 1967, French Mahler was basically terra incognita. One might have anticipated that the French wouldn’t fully respond to Mahler’s turbulent emotional world, but Martinon comes close, within limits. Like George Szell and Erich Leinsdorf, his approach is objectivist, and even in the wildest outbursts of the first movement, where Bernstein and Tennstedt unleash a cataclysm, Martinon exerts control over the powerhouse Chicago brass section. The extended trombone solos are virtuosic and tame at the same time, creating the effect of not being permitted to say everything Mahler wanted to say.
This performance, taken from a stereo FM broadcast, has circulated officially in a 10-CD box set issued by the CSO in 2000 to mark the start of a new millennium. (I believe it has also circulated in private versions taped off the air.) Wide acclaim followed, but I wouldn’t rave about the first movement. The conductor’s reticence is expressed in the way Martinon keeps strict time. Mahler without rubato and late-Romantic rhapsody runs against the grain (note the wild rubato that the composer applies in the few piano rolls we have from him).
If Martinon’s interpretation had to rise or fall on its first half hour alone, I’d have my doubts. But in the next two movements he comes surprisingly to life. The second movement is a minuet marked ‘very moderate’, and conductors can play it as a quiet respite after the unruly storminess that came before. Martinon reaches deeper, finding more to express - perhaps he found a level in Mahler’s emotional realm where he felt comfortable. The third movement, one of Mahler’s greatest uses of the ‘Knaben Wunderhorn’ mood, is just as good in Martinon’s hands, at once innocent, rustic, and wistful. The microphone placement favors the woodwinds, which phrase delightfully. The offstage posthorn solo (exquisitely played) is reduced to the faintest pianissimo, more like a memory or a ghost than on any other recording I know.
Regina Resnik had a prominent career at the Met, a powerful mezzo voice, and a strong stage presence. Since I don’t identify her with song, it was a surprise to see her name here. It turns out that Resnik is in excellent voice, and she applies her greatest strength as a singer, which was characterization. Nietzsche’s warning to humanity in the fourth movement sounds deeply sorrowful and heartfelt. Martinon shapes this movement beautifully. The fifth movement is impeccably sung by the women of Margaret Hillis’ justly renowned Chicago Symphony Chorus, blending perfectly with the children’s voices. The text of ‘The Poor Childrens’ Begging Song’ is from the ‘Knaben Wunderhorn’ collection, but Resnik doesn’t aim for the childlike tone in the finale of the Mahler Fourth, instead sounding as poignant as in the Nietzsche text - it works movingly.
Martinon has a second, much less well-played Mahler Third with the orchestra of the ORTF in Paris (nla), so he was seriously intent on bringing this music to France. In both readings reviewers found the Adagio finale to be his strongest movement. Here, his penchant for controlling the fine details of a score is at its best, producing tender gradations of tone from the orchestra’s wonderful string section and yet sustaining the moving line. The brass apotheosis at the climax is overwhelming and sublime at the same time. You can’t pull your attention away for an instant. If the whole performance had lived up to the luminous finale, this would qualify as a great Mahler Third. As it is, Martinon left us an impressive version which surpasses itself in the last four movements.
The recorded sound has a full dynamic and frequency range, or close to it. Fifty years ago there was no multi-miking or digital mixing board, so balances aren’t perfect, a reasonably minor drawback. The audience is mostly silent; there is brief applause at the end. No texts or program notes are provided. The main thing is that this is a historic performance that collectors have eagerly sought after for years.”
- Huntley Dent, FANFARE
“Regina Resnik won the Metropolitan Opera auditions and débuted with great success at the Met on 6 December, 1944, as a last-minute replacement for Zinka Milanov. The role was Leonora in Verdi’s IL TROVATORE and over the years she performed many of opera’s most important roles on its most prominent stages, including those of the New York City Opera, the San Francisco Opera, Covent Garden and other European houses. Her best-known roles include Ellen Orford in Britten’s PETER GRIMES, Donna Anna and Donna Elvira in Mozart’s DON GIOVANNI and the title role in Bizet’s CARMEN. Later in her career she performed in musical theater and became a sought-after instructor and opera director. She was known for her strong dramatic skills and impeccable musicianship onstage and for her bold personality offstage. She displayed fearlessness from the beginning. Following the triumph of her first season, Resnik became a leading soprano at the Met, during which time she sang Rosalinde in this English-language production of DIE FLEDERMAUS, a delightful tour-de-force!
In 1942, she made her début at the New Opera Company of New York after being given 24 hours’ notice that she was needed to substitute. Two years later, she made a similar last-minute substitution in her début at the Metropolitan Opera as Leonora, in IL TROVATORE. Each time she impressed. ‘All things considered, Miss Resnik’s début was an auspicious one’, a review of her Metropolitan début in THE NEW YORK TIMES said. ‘She has a strong, clear soprano, which, though occasionally marred by a tremolo, is both agile enough for the florid passages allotted to Leonora and forceful enough for the dramatic ones’.
Ms. Resnik became a much-admired soprano and toured widely through the mid-1950s, when she and others began to notice that her voice was darkening. A friend, the baritone Giuseppe Danise, helped persuade her to change, telling her he believed she had always been a mezzo. ‘It was the biggest gamble of my life, when I decided over two tumultuous years that perhaps I was not a soprano after all’, she told The Times in 1967. ‘There were many opinions: I was a soprano with low notes, or mezzo with high notes’. The gamble paid off, she said, and it ultimately provided her with better roles, including some of her most notable, as Carmen, Klytämnestra in ELEKTRA, Mistress Quickly in FALSTAFF and the Countess in PIQUE DAME. ‘I have really run the gamut’, she added, emphatic that she had not lost her upper register. ‘And my range is exactly the same today. Not one note higher or lower. But I was happier in the depth of my voice than in its height’.
Ms. Resnik graduated from James Monroe High School in the Bronx and studied music education at Hunter College, graduating in 1942.
‘She was a totally American original’, said F. Paul Driscoll, the editor in chief of OPERA NEWS. ‘She was always very proud of being educated in the United States and beginning her career in the United States’. Mr. Driscoll emphasized Ms. Resnik’s resilience, particularly under Rudolf Bing, the sometimes autocratic general manager of the Met, for much of her career. ‘She embraced the opportunities she was given, and whether or not Mr. Bing thought they were star parts, she made them star parts’, Mr. Driscoll said. ‘Directors loved her, conductors loved her, and the audience loved her’.”
- William Yardley, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 9 Aug., 2013