Pristine has chosen a striking cover design for
this issue to reflect the cosmic nature of the Resurrection Symphony
artwork based on photos from the Hubble Space Telescope is used as the
backdrop to the image of Bruno Walter, baton poised. This is a recording
that was almost never completed: the sessions were delayed by a year
following Walter’s heart attack in March 1957, just after he had
recorded the fourth and fifth movements.
Walter’s way with this mighty work has been revered since it first
appeared; regarding its musical content, I have nothing much to contribute
beyond reiterating the many virtues already commented upon by previous
reviewers. This is a recording which belongs in every serious Mahlerian’s
collection; the question is whether a newcomer or an established collector
should contemplate forking out for this XR re-mastering by Andrew Rose.
I have long been a fan of Pristine’s engineering and just recently
extolled the extraordinary clarity and depth which Mr Rose has breathed
into the Furtwängler La Scala Ring
. I am invariably impressed
by what he can do for venerable recordings and I can certainly hear
how he has reduced hiss, enhanced lower frequencies and revealed the
brass and chorus in greater glory. However, after repeated close comparison
with the CBS issue - originally very well recorded by Philips - I cannot
in all conscience claim that anyone who already owns it need rush to
replace it with this Pristine single disc, especially as the CBS double
CD set, offering the First Symphony too, is available at bargain prices.
Indeed, occasionally I even felt that that the CBS engineering retained
more bite and body than the Pristine version.
Walter’s vision for this work is one of quiet mastery and concentration;
there is nothing showy or interventionist about his conducting but under
his direction the music seems always to be doing just what it should.
He never lingers or indulges and those looking for the equally masterly
but very different, slower approaches of Tennstedt or Levine or Klemperer’s
more granitic assault, will be surprised. Walter’s version fits
neatly onto one disc but he never seems to be rushing. He storms heaven
with an orchestra - here correctly credited as the New York Philharmonic,
which was originally billed as the “Columbia Symphony Orchestra”
for the usual contractual reasons - which plays out of its skin.
The key to the first movement lies in the instruction “maestoso”;
Walter maintains a steady, majestic and inexorable stride in this funeral
march, but also permits the pastoral interludes to unfold gently, uniting
the two moods with a firm sense of purpose. His control is absolute;
he knows how to meld the contrasting and conflicting moods into a coherent
narrative. When the menacing opening theme returns on the insistent
brass, the discords build and build to a thrilling climax at 14:54 before
the tantalising offer of consolation subsides into a wholly ambiguous
conclusion, reflecting Mahler’s ambivalence about his search for
God; Walter displays a wholly convincing understanding of the spiritual
dimension of this symphony.
The Andante unfolds with lilt and charm; Walter’s subtle rubato
and the singing cello tone effortlessly convey the recollection of happy
memories in a past life. This restrained style perhaps carries over
too much into the “St Anthony preaching to the fishes” movement,
eliciting a criticism from some quarters which has some validity, that
he is a tad too blithe and relaxed to capture fully the grim and bitter
irony of the saint’s efforts; the music here should sound like
a metaphor for the circularity and pointlessness of life’s frustrations,
but yet again Walter secures a powerful close to the movement.
“Urlicht” is tender and prayerful, as it should be. Maureen
Forrester’s smoky, rich-toned contralto, with its appealing, flickering
vibrato, is amongst the very best in this music; only Janet Baker in
her many versions and perhaps Jessye Norman for Maazel surpass her.
The monstrous finale is simply glorious: Emilia Cundari - a singer with
whom, I confess, I am entirely unfamiliar - is silvery and soaring,
while Forrester intones her text like the Cumaean Sibyl. The Westminster
College Choir is wonderfully expressive, first mysterious, then impassioned
and ecstatic. The otherworldly off-stage effects in the “Grosse
Appel” are highly effective and in the last ten minutes are amongst
the most serene and ethereal of any recording. Consistent with his strategy
in directing the whole symphony, Walter makes a slow-burn progress towards
an overwhelmingly powerful climax.
Whether you buy it on Pristine or CBS, this is an essential interpretation.
Masterwork Index: Mahler
mvt. Allegro maestoso [21:37]
mvt. Andante moderato [10:37]
mvt. In ruhig fließender Bewegung [10:46]
mvt. Urlicht - Sehr feierlich, aber schlicht [4:11]
mvt. Pt.1 - Im Tempo des Scherzos - Wild herausfahrend
mvt. Pt.2 - Wider zurückhaltend - Langsam - Misterioso