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