C1812. BRUNO WALTER Cond. Vienna Phil., w.Kerstin Thorborg & Charles Kullman: DAS LIED VON DER ERDE (Mahler). (Canada) St Laurent Studio YSL 78-1016, Live Performance, 24 May, 1936, Musikvereinssaal, Vienna. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
gThis justly famed performance has enjoyed numerous previous issues on CD. Given this previous market saturation, it is not surprising that it has taken another 12 years for a new transfer to appear. The performance itself has been subject to so much commentary that it would be superfluous for me to add to that. I can only say that this remains a towering, indispensable monument in the Mahler discography.
The main issue to consider, then, is which remastering of this performance buyers should prefer. The issue is complicated because sonically this set has almost intractable problems. EMIfs attempt to make an in-concert recording with Walter in Vienna was far less successful than would be its subsequent effort in January 1938 for Mahlerfs Ninth. In my experience, no other 78rpm set has yielded such radically different results from the labors of different remastering engineers.
Where, then, does this new transfer by St. Laurent Studio stand? In its reissues of 78s, it has essentially followed the non-interventionist lead of Opus Kura. In this instance, however, it has obtained markedly superior results. There is a good deal of disc surface noise and crackle, far more than in the Opus Kura issue, though I did not find the levels intolerable and soon adjusted to them. The sound quality of the orchestra and singers is extremely vivid, natural, and lifelike; the orchestra and singers are quite forward, balances and frequencies sound absolutely right, and in no other transfer does the distinctive tonal color of the Vienna Philharmonic come through so clearly. I am particularly pleased that Kullman is fully audible at all points and does not sound recessed anywhere, something which for me brings renewed appreciation of his idiosyncratic but engrossing contributions to the proceedings. For my part, I heartily commend this as one of the best transfers available. As usual, St. Laurent Studio provides no texts or notes, but only an insert with performer and recording information plus tracks and timings.h
- James A. Altena, FANFARE
"fI know of no one who understands me as well as I feel you do and I believe I have entered deep into the mine of your soulf wrote Gustav Mahler. Alma, too, credited Walter with a full understanding of her husband and wrote in her autobiography: eAfter [Mahler's] death, Walter's great and exalted art was at his service. He mastered its every subtlety and he took the spirit of Mahler's work as the keystone of his own work as an interpretive musicianf.
The first recording of DAS LIED was not made until May 24, 1936. Even then, the work apparently was deemed too obscure to risk the expense of studio sessions, and so its 14 sides were cut live at a Vienna Philharmonic concert to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Mahler's death. Suitably, Walter conducted. The result was an intensely human document, propelled by a marvelous feeling of spontaneity that eludes all other recordings. Orchestra and vocalists (tenor Charles Kullman and contralto Kerstin Thorberg) dig into their notes with wholehearted passion, often taking substantial liberty with the written rhythm; indeed, the scheme is set in the first movement, as the tenor often lags the orchestra, only to suddenly leap ahead, adding a vibrant touch of personality to his already heroic lines. Both singers project vast sincerity and even vulnerability by holding their vibrato to a minimum, and in the process avoid any suggestion of stylized opera or refined art singing. Even if the beginning is a bit scrappy, the orchestra, too, eschews the smooth sonic blend for which it was famed. While the somewhat crude recording obscures some of the detail and weakens the delicacy of the ending, the instrumental choirs compensate by standing out with vivid detail that highlights the inventiveness of Mahler's scoring. Although a relatively fleet 57 minutes, Walter's pacing never seems rushed, but rather vibrant and lucid. Among its glories are a eVon der Schönheitf that effortlessly integrates the heady drive of the galloping horses into the girls' wistful heartache. While we never will know how Mahler would have led DAS LIED, and while Walter undoubtedly had matured and evolved over the quarter-century that had elapsed since he encountered the work with its composer, this first recording, even aside from its intrinsic splendor, boasts unique authenticity."
- Peter Gutmann, Classical Notes
gThe first thing that strikes one upon hearing this live broadcast from Vienna in 1936 is how well-played it is. It is actually far better played than the 1952 studio recording with the same orchestra. The instrumental soloists each pick up the text cues and illustrate them to perfection. This is something that is utterly missing from the New York recording of 1948 where a flute or oboe solo is played as an opportunity to shine and not as a segue, or anticipation to the text. The other thing, indeed the most striking feature of this performance, is the same thing that struck me when I first heard the Busch Quartetfs recording of Beethovenfs Rasumovsky Quartets: a sense of ensemble tightness that was linear and not horizontal. There was no sense of bar-lines, or even of a consistent pulse that would indicate a clear meter of the work. Yet, astonishingly, everyone was together. Every member of the ensemble flowed as a single organic unit in the same direction with the same sense of tempo, structure and dynamic, and with the 1952 studio recording of the work in Vienna, it's clear that even the orchestra no longer has any natural understanding of the work. It was more than composers and their music that were lost with Hitler's arrival, it was also a manner of making music.h
- Norman Lebrecht, Forbidden Music
"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