MAHLER:  Das Lied von der ErdeIch bin der Welt abhanden gekommenAdagietto from Symphony No. 5 in C# minor.
Kerstin Thorborg, contralto; Charles Kullman, tenor; Vienna Philharmonic Orch/Bruno Walter, cond.
NAXOS 8.110850 (B) (ADD) TT:  72:02
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MAHLER:  Symphony No. 9 in D
Vienna Philharmonic Orch/Bruno Walter, cond.
NAXOS 8.110852 (B) (ADD) TT:  70:43
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These historic performances have been issued often before - but in these new transfers by Mark Obert-Thorne they sound better than ever.  Das Lied, recorded during a live concert May 24, 1936, was the first recording of the work, which the conductor had premiered a quarter of a century earlier, a year after the composer's death. There is a bit of a question about the matrices; MOT states there might have been two performances recorded by Columbia - why else  would there be sides identified as "take two" if there was but one performance? The same applies to the Symphony; perhaps there were two performances of that, too - but it doesn't really matter.

Walter would make two later recordings of Das Lied, in 1952 for Decca with Kathleen Ferrier, Julius Patzak and  the VPO, and in 1960 for Columbia with the New York Philharmonic, Mildred Miller and Ernst Haefliger as soloists.  There also exists a special NYP issue of a 1948 performance with Walter, Ferrier and Set Svanholm, an occasion that represented the distinguished contralto's American debut.  However the first two recordings are the finest.  This issue of the 1936 performance is of particular interest as it also contains the Rückert Lieder except from the same concert as well as the Adagietto from the Fifth Symphony, recorded with the Vienna Philharmonic May 24, 1936.  Mengelberg was the first to record the latter, a decade earlier, a performance  that takes about 7 minutes, Walter takes about a minute longer, and Mahler's own apparently took about 9 minutes - as contrasted to 10 - 13 minutes in most recordings of the past three decades.  Towards the end of the Adagietto, just before the return of Tempo I (5:40 in this new issue) the score indicates a unison glissando for violins and violas, from high D-natural to middle-C, marked "ppp."  It's virtually inaudible in Walter's performance; Mengelberg makes much of it as do most conductors - it is, indeed, a magic moment.

The 1936 live recording is superb.  Charles Kullman is a bit taxed by the music, but Kirsten Thorborg is totally in control.  You can hear her live performance of October 5, 1939 with the Concertgebouw under Carl Schuricht in which she is partnered by Carl Martin Öhmann, who is magnificent in his Melchiorish power.  As for the Mahler Ninth recorded live January 16, 1938, it is one of the sublime statements of the music, essential in every Mahler collection.  Hats off to all concerned in these two major budget-priced reissues!

R.E.B.  (July 2002)