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Some thoughts on Bernstein's recordings of the Mahler symphonies -
by DAVID WILKINS

 

<< Concluded from yesterday

When it comes to the Eighth Symphony, however, there is no greater thrust than that of the much, and appropriately, lauded Solti Decca recording. In the Sony set, you find the luxury of a live recording from the opening of the Avery Fisher hall in 1962 of the Veni Creatus first movement. Some of the soloists are on recognisably first-night-nerves form but the wall of sound at the movement's conclusion is breathtaking. It is enough to make you identify with Thomas Mann -- writing to the composer after the 1910 Munich premiere -- 'the art of our time in its profoundest and most sacred form.' [Listen -- Sony disc 3 track 21, 1:33-2:30].

Leonard Bernstein - Mahler - Symphony No 8. Copyright (c) Sony Music Entertainment Inc

For the Sony recording of the complete symphony, CBS moved to London because it was tied-in with live performances and substantially cheaper. There were all sorts of problems. Humphrey Burton's wonderful biography of Bernstein quotes the conductor's own account of the initial choral inadequacies : 'We had a chorus ... of ladies in hats who couldn't sing at all except in tea-time voices!' Well -- you wouldn't know that from the finished result where the highly experienced London Symphony Chorus join the Leeds Festival Chorus, the LSO and a well-drilled regiment of children to scale Latin heights, Teutonic forest-depths and the metaphysical mysteries of Goethe's conclusion. DG never got around to a separate recording of this vast (and vastly expensive) piece and so adopted the Salzburg radio recording that Unitel recorded for video. It, too, is magnificent in many ways but fatally let-down by an undistinguished organ sound that even I can better in my own living-room with an electronic keyboard.

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Copyright © 28 August 2001 David Wilkins, Eastbourne, East Sussex, UK

 

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