MAHLER:  Symphony No. 2 in C Minor, "Resurrection." (rec. 1924)  (Gertrud Bindernagel, soprano; Emmi Leisner, contralto; Berlin Cathedral Chorus; Berlin State Opera Orch/Oskar Fried, cond.).   Kindertotenlieder. (rec. 1928) (Heinrich Rehkemper; Berlin State Opera Orch/Jascha Horenstein, cond. "Ich ging mit Lust" from Lieder und Ges”ng" and "Wer hat dies Liedlein erdacht? from Des Knaben Wunderhorn. (rec. 1921/15)  Grete Stückgold, soprano.  "Wer hat dies Liedlein erdacht? from Des Knaben Wunderhorn. (rec. 1926)  Lula Mysz-Gmeiner, soprano.  "Rheinlegendchen" and "Der Tambourg'sell" from Des Knaben Wunderhorn. (rec. 1931)  Heinrich Schlusnus, baritone; Berlin State Opera Orch/Hermann Weigert, cond. "Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen" from Lieder nach Rückert and  "Urlicht" from Symphony No. 2. (rec. 1930)  Sara Charles-Cahier, mezzo-soprano; Berlin State Opera Orch/Selmar Meyrowitz, cond.
NAXOS 8.110152-53 (2 CDs) (B) (ADD) TT:  74:48 & 61:53
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No, Bruno Walter did not make the first recording of a major Mahler work—the world waited until 1936 for his Das Lied von der Erde. It was Oskar Fried (1871-1941), five years Walter's senior, who likewise conducted in Berlin during the Weimar Republic. In 1924, with Berlin Staatsoper players, two soloists, and members of the Berlin Cathedral Chorus clustered around an acoustic horn, Fried conducted the Second Symphony, the "Resurrection" no less, for Deutsche Grammophon. (Eleven years later, by which time the industry had developed electrical recording, this same "Resurrection" was the first Mahler symphony recorded stateside, by RCA Victor at Minneapolis, under Eugene Ormandy's direction.)

The limitations of acoustic recording imposed a dossier of compromises—a tuba to buttress the bass viol line, something other than birch-twigs on a bass drum in the Scherzo, a bell (perhaps) substituting for a triangle in the Trio, hardly more than a chamber choir in the finale. In spite of all this, an eloquent and absorbing conception emerged. Fried had studied the music with Mahler, who heard and praised his 1905 performance in Berlin, the Scherzo movement in particular. It remains, nonetheless, a historic document rather than a casual purchase, even in Ward Marston's painstaking remastering, matching pitches that varied from side-to-side, and equalizing where necessary to produce a coherent sound picture. One gets used to the sound, however (I found it most persuasive on my computer), and the soloists come through exceptionally, especially soprano Getrud Bindernagel.

Of the individual Mahler songs, the two sung by the lovely Swedish soprano Grete Stückgold (who later emigrated to the U.S.) were acoustic. The rest are electric, including one by the risibly named and vocally quirky Lula Mysz-Gmeiner, later Elisabeth Schwarzkopf's teacher (which explains a lot about the latter diva's technical problems). Heinrich Rehkemper's trailblazing Kindertotenlieder, conducted by the young Jascha Horenstein, is instructive in a valuable sense, but the memorable male singer on disk 1 is baritone Heinrich Schlusnus. He also recorded Songs of a Wayfarer with Winfried Zillig and the Hessian State Radio for prewar-DG (I have a treasured cassette of it, issued by US Polydor) that would have been a worthy companion of his colleague's Kindertotenlieder in this collection. The two examples of American-born mezzo Sara Charles-Cahier, a student both of the storied Jean de Reszke and of Joseph Joachim's wife Amalie, forge a direct link to Mahler, with whom she sang during his last two seasons at the Vienna Hofoper, and in the posthumous premiere of Das Lied with Bruno Walter. Keith Anderson calls her "old" in these 1930 recordings --  including the heartbreaking song "Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen" -- yet she was only 50 (just three years older than Lotte Lehmann when the latter recorded Act I of Die Walküre). Not a young voice, to be sure, but hardly a relic, and an artist of authority as well as expressive persuasion.

R.D.