Not long ago I reviewed
Charles Adlerís recording of Mahlerís Third Symphony and found much to admire in it so I am very pleased to see that Music & Arts has followed up that issue with a release of a performance, from a few years later, of the Second Symphony.
May I refer readers who are unaware of Charles Adlerís career to my review of that earlier Mahler release in which I gave a little background information about him, drawn from Mark Klugeís booklet note? Mr Kluge is responsible also for the notes accompanying this new release and while thereís some overlap between the two he provides a good deal of new information this time round in a comprehensive and fascinating essay. Once again he provides ample evidence of what an enterprising, pioneering conductor Charles Adler was and how wide-ranging were his musical horizons.
Adler managed to record the massive Third Symphony in just one day but for the Second the sessions were spread over two. At 23:55 his reading of the first movement is one of the most spacious that I can recall hearing. To be honest, there are times when I find him too deliberate. However, his sturdy, strongly projected view of the music has much to commend it. His is a broad conception; heís patient and doesnít go in for superficial thrills. It has to be said that the VSO of 1956 was not a world-class ensemble and the fairly close recording shows up quite a bit of untidiness in the playing. On the credit side of the ledger, however, we must set their undoubted commitment. Furthermore, it must be remembered that in those days orchestral musicians would not have encountered Mahlerís complex score as often as is nowadays the case.
The second movement goes well. Adler is unhurried at the start and gets his orchestra to play warmly; he shows considerable empathy with the Lšndler
music and the more powerful section (4:39 -7:11) is strongly projected. Adler also convinces in the third movement which is well-paced and characterful. Heís gripping in the premonitions of the finale. Sonja Dreksler is an impressive soloist in ĎUrlichtí; her tone is warm and firm and she sings expressively but in a poised fashion.
In the finale there are some odd balances within the orchestra at times, which are no doubt due to the microphone placings. The off-stage instruments are managed quite well, however. Adler has the measure of the movement and puts across its drama pretty well, though not as excitingly as one has heard from several conductors since. That said, there were places when I didnít care for his pacing, usually because his approach to the score seemed a bit cautious. I suppose what Iím saying Ė and it applies to stretches of the first movement as well Ė is that I donít feel he lets go sufficiently at times. He handles the groŖe Appell
pretty well but then the choir enters (Disc 2, track 5, 0:00). Oh dear! Instead of the hushed, awestruck entry to which we are accustomed, the Austrian Radio Choir achieves at best a solid mezzo forte
. This is described in the booklet as ďa forthright outpouring of warm tone rather than hushed mystery.Ē Iím afraid thatís too polite. Presumably Adler wanted it this way but, if so, then he earns a big black mark from me. Matters arenít helped by the close recording of the choir. After this poor start the choral contribution is solid rather than distinguished. Both soloists do well. The very end is fervent though some of the players seem a bit over-enthusiastic. In summary, this account of ĎResurrectioní, while it has much to commend it, is not on quite the same level of achievement as Adlerís traversal of the Third.
Adler recorded the Bruckner Third Symphony for the SPA label on 17 April 1953. However, what Music & Arts offer here is a live concert performance given a few days earlier. The version played is described as ď1890 version, first published by Theodor RšttigĒ. Iíve never heard the SPA recording but Mark Kluge describes it as ďa bit studio-boundĒ. I was particularly interested in his comment that this slightly earlier concert performance shaves some two minutes off the timing that Adler achieved in the studio just a few days later. I must say that, in terms of pacing, I find Adlerís approach to the first movement convincing. He can be fiery where needs be and the more lyrical passages are also done well. The orchestra plays with enthusiasm and commitment but one canít overlook the rough edges in the playing Ė the fairly close recording doesnít do the musicians many favours. In fact it has to be said that throughout the symphony the playing often lacks the last degree of polish. Adler adopts quite a flowing tempo for the slow movement and though this is infinitely preferable to allowing the music to drag I did come to wonder, as the movement unfolded, whether he was giving the music sufficient space. However, he clearly carries the orchestra with him; they play with commitment and Mark Kluge is right to draw attention to the warm string tone at the start. The third movement goes very well indeed; the scherzo has fine energy while the trio is charmingly done. The finale goes well enough though Iím afraid I find Adlerís way with the major-key apotheosis of the trumpet theme with which the symphony began rather overbearing.
The original recordings of both works have their limitations, though itís important to remember that neither of these radio recordings was intended for preservation and commercial issue. However, I donít think that any sonic limitations are sufficiently serious as to prevent one from appreciating Adlerís performances. The transfers have been done by Aaron Z. Snyder; he had a number of problems to overcome in getting these recordings ready for their first commercial release and he details these quite openly in an accompanying note.
In 2013 we have so many top-class recordings of both of these scores available to us that itís easy to become blasť. Such was not the case in the early 1950s, however, and the courage, enterprise and vision of musicians such as Charles Adler in presenting these scores cannot be overstated. There may be shortcomings in these performances Ė or, at least, shortcomings as judged by todayís standards. Though Iíve mentioned some of them in this review thatís because intending purchasers need to be aware of them. However, thereís also a great deal to commend these readings and they are well worth hearing. Music & Arts deserve our gratitude for making them available Ė and for doing so with their customary care and attention to detail.