C1786. BRUNO WALTER Cond. Vienna Phil.: Symphony #9 in D (Mahler). (Canada) St Laurent Studio YSL 78-959, Live Performance, 16 Jan., 1938, Musikvereinssaal, Vienna. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
“In the autumn of 1910, knowing he would not live to conduct the premier, Gustav Mahler entrusted the score of his Ninth Symphony to Bruno Walter. Some 28 years later, Walter also conducted the first recording of the work and it remains one of the most remarkable documents of the 20th Century. With an incandescent Vienna Philharmonic under Walter’s direction, the recording was made at a concert in the Musikvereinssaal on January 16, 1938, some 56 days prior to the Anschluss. Walter, then 61, and his colleagues, some of whom had played under Mahler, give an overwhelming reading, inspired not only by the memory of the composer but by the grim situation in Austria and in Europe at that moment.
The producer was EMI’s Fred Gaisberg, who set up the recording knowing well the symphony was so rarely performed at that time. Since five rehearsals had been scheduled, there was ample time for EMI’s engineers to set up what was a live recording. Two machines were used, running in harness: while one was recording, the other was being reloaded with wax. Eight weeks later, Austria was annexed by Hitler. A number of the Vienna Philharmonic’s principals fled the country, as did Walter.
Gaisberg caught up with Walter in Paris to obtain his approval of the set’s twenty 78 rpm sides. He recalled: ‘So delighted was he with the results that his usually sober face brightened up considerably’.
Listening to the account is like stepping back in time, and it can be a chilling experience. The sound is amazingly clean and ambient for a recording from this time.”
- Ricardo Mio
“Mahler's Ninth was written upon the composer's learning that his heart was defective and that he would have at most only a few more years to live, and some believe the piece reflects the varying emotions he felt in response to this news. It begins with an understated and wistful first movement (the opening theme sounds like sighing), sounding different from anything he had composed prior and looking forward to post-Great War modernism. The piece then moves into an upbeat scherzo for the second movement and a chaotic, stopping-and-starting third movement. The final movement, containing references to the Pilgrim's Song from TANNHÄUSER, Bruckner's Ninth and the fourth song of the composer's own KINDERTOTENLIEDER, is thought by many listeners to emote a hopeless despair. For me, however, it brings to mind the final scene of Ingmar Bergman's WILD STRAWBERRIES in which the aged protagonist contentedly lies down to sleep for presumably the last time, having resolved contradictions in his life and made peace with his oncoming death.
If you love Mahler's Ninth, you will want to hear and have in your collection this historic, moving performance conducted by Walter in Vienna in 1938 as he was struggling with the uncertainty of his own future in light of the impending Anschluss; Walter's plunge into the beauty of the piece is well worth the listen."
- Peter Ruark, ClassicalMusicWeb
“Each of these disks from Canadian engineer Yves St Laurent's natural transfer, made without filtering, like all his dubbings, is easy to listen to, despite the surface noise."
- Tully Potter, CLASSICAL RECORD QUARTERLY, Summer, 2011