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Gustav MAHLER (1860 - 1911)
Symphony No. 4 in G major (1899-1901)
London Symphony Orchestra/Josef Krips
Suzanne Danco (soprano)
rec. live broadcast 20 January 1957, Royal Festival Hall, London. ADD mono

Perhaps better known for his conducting and recordings of the late Classical and early Romantic composers, especially Mozart and Beethoven, Josef Krips was nonetheless a highly versatile conductor and apparently sometimes programmed earlier Mahler symphonies in his concerts, but this performance still comes as something unusual in his output, especially as Mahler was still a rarity in the 50’s. Recordings from the following decade by such as Bernstein, Szell and Kubelik are better known and of course they have the great advantage of being studio-made and in stereo. In fact, the constant coughing and distant, crumbly, reverberant acoustic here do Krips’ interpretation few favours – although in any case, I find his deliberate, plodding manner in the opening bars devoid of charm – odd, for a conductor so light on his feet in Mozart’s symphonies. The playing isn’t especially beguiling, either, as perhaps the orchestra wasn’t confident with unfamiliar repertoire and there are quite a few blips and audible wrong notes. The conclusion to the first movement certainly finds more poetry than the opening but the ropey sound tends to vitiate its impact.

What I miss here, apart from better sound and playing, is the conductor’s ability to capture the specific mood of each movement; they have a tendency to cohere in blandness and similarity. I was frankly bored by the second movement and the third – which can be so meltingly beautiful in its lush sentimentality - resolutely eschews lyricism or profundity, especially as the poor sound makes the strings screech. The temperature rises a little in the tempestuous middle section but to little avail – and several folk obligingly hack throughout the putatively serene conclusion of the movement through the interval into the opening of the finale.

As a voice-fancier, my interest in this recording was piqued by the presence in that fourth movement of Suzanne Danco, who was a ubiquitous and prolific performer in the 50’s. She is indeed delightful: steady, silvery and even throughout her range and very expressive in her use of the ironic German text. She seems to lift proceedings in general; the orchestral playing is more assured and sometimes people even stop coughing long enough to listen to her, or obligingly wait for her to breathe before they resume barking. Amusingly, whoever produced this transfer considerately decided to exclude applause but one solitary clap obtrudes before the acoustic is summarily chopped off before the ambient noise has diminished.

Try as I might, I can find little reason, apart from hearing Danco, for anyone wanting to buy or even listen to this, given the inferiority of the sound and playing versus the strength and attractiveness of other options. I shall return to Krips’ delightful Mozart; I don’t think Mahler was his forte.

Ralph Moore

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