Reviews

GHCD 2210 – MAHLER – Resurrection Symphony – Kathleen Ferrier – 1951

Concertgebouw Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, Kathleen Ferrier, Jo Vincent, Amsterdam Toonkunstchoir

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CD Review

So let me start with performers of whom I was well aware: Kathleen Ferrier (contralto), the Concertgebouw Orchestra and Otto Klemperer. The only soloist of whom I had little recall was Dutch soloist Jo Vincent. She was a regular performer during the period between the World Wars, but the recording in which she features was made in 1951 as part of the Holland Festival. Ferrier was in the finest of voices for Mahler’s Symphony No 2 (Resurrection). By that time she was critically ill, and the marvel is that the performance has such radiance. 6 July 1951 must be remembered as yielding one of the greatest of Mahler performances in which the Concertgebouw was joined by the Amsterdam Toonkunstkoor, and the CD together with its accompanying booklet has been put together with obvious loving care for release on the Guild label.
Chris Green, www.opusklassiek.nl

Klassik.com April 2006

Ohne Wenn und Aber. Ein Monument.
Die von der schweizer Firma ‘Guild Historical’ neu auf CD herausgebrachte Aufnahme von Mahlers 2. Symphonie (der so genannten ‘Auferstehungssymphonie’) mit Otto Klpemperer und Kathleen Ferrier ist eine alte Bekannte – denn sie ist seit Jahrzehnten bei verschiedenen Labels erhältlich. Sie wird immer wieder als ‚Klassiker’ apostrophiert. In der Tat, dieser Mitschnitt eines Live-Konzerts vom 12. Juli 1951 aus Amsterdam, während des Holland Festivals im Concertgebouw aufgenommen mit dem dortigen Concertgebouw Orchester, ist eine Sternstunde der Mahler-Interpretation. Ohne Wenn und Aber. Ein Monument. Klemperer lässt schon in den allerersten Takten mit dem wuchtig hochfahrenden Bass-Thema erahnen, dass hier in den folgenden 77 Minuten wahrhaft Außergewöhnliches passieren wird. Und Ferrieres Wiedergabe des Liedes ‘O Röschen rot!’ ist gleichfalls außergewöhnlich – von tragischer Größe, auch wenn ihr Deutsch manchmal etwas komisch wirkt, was komischerweise der Tragik keinen Abbruch tut. Im gigantischen Chor-Finale (‘Aufersteh’n, ja aufersteh’n’) schließlich zeigt sich Klemperer als grandioser Architekt der Klangmassen, und die Holländerin Jo Vincent singt anrührend den Sopran-Part dazu. Aber: All dies ist schon seit Jahren zu hören gewesen, wenn auch in sehr schlechter Klangqualität. Es scheint als sei damals in Amsterdam keine offizielle Radioaufnahme von diesem Konzert gemacht worden durch den Niederländischen Rundfunk (was seltsam ist!), weswegen man immer wieder auf Privatmitschnitte zurückgreifen musste, von abenteuerlicher Klangqualität. Der Produzent dieser neuen CD verkündet im Booklet, es wäre ihm gelungen, nun endlich eine ‘superiore Quelle’ zu finden und den Klang deutlich zu verbessern, ‘so als wäre ein Schleier von der Aufnahme gehoben worden’. Leider kann ich diesen positiven Effekt nicht bestätitgen. Auf meinem CD-Spieler klingt die Aufnahme nicht merklich anders als die altbekannten Versionen. Damit ist diese ‘New Edition Remastered 2005’ zwar eine willkommene Erinnerung daran, wie sensationell diese Interpretation von Mahlers 2. Symphonie ist, und jeder Mahler-Fan, der sie noch nicht kennt, sollte sie unbeding tanschaffen, in dieser oder einer anderen Ausgabe. Wer allerdings seinen Mahler, und zudem diesen Mahler mit seinen ‘super sonic’ Effekten, in einer entsprechenden digitalen Einspielung hören will, sollte eher die Finger von diesem historischen Dokument lassen.
Dr. Kevin Clarke

MUSICWEB MONDAY APRIL 03 06

In what must be one of the most beautifully produced re-issue packages that I have ever seen, Guild have given us a splendid treasure in this reissue of the Otto Klemperer’s 1951 Mahler 2.. Audiences flocked from all over the world to the Mahler festival from which this performance derives. It is most notable for the presence of the great British contralto Kathleen Ferrier, who at the time was beginning to show symptoms of the cancer that was to take her life at a tragically young age just two years later.

One of the great singers of the twentieth century, Ferrier has now passed into mythology, but unlike other artists who have died young, there seems to be little if any evidence that  the halo that now shines around her memory is anything but absolutely deserved. Ferrier was particularly known for her interpretations of the music of Mahler, which at the time of her death, was still only rarely performed in concert halls and even less often recorded. It would take until the 1960s and the devoted and driving personality of Leonard Bernstein to bring Mahler’s music into worldwide acceptance.

Although he is not a conductor that immediately leaps to mind at the mention of Mahler, Klemperer was one of the composer’s early and significant champions, and brings the music to life with not only great exhilaration, but also with a certain transparency. He is careful with the thicker textures, seeing to it that the appropriate instruments sing when called for. Even in the loudest passages there is a complete sense of balance. I was also pleased with Klemperer’s tempo choices, never so slow as to be lugubrious.

Both soloists turn in outstanding performances, Ferrier cutting right to the heart of the texts, presenting the idea of the afterlife with such radiance and hope. It is a shame that Jo Vincent, an exemplary singer in her own right, is given so little recognition in this release, but then again, the point here is to sell the Ferrier name.

Sound quality is on the whole very fine considering the source material. On occasion we are hit with the repeated spin sound of a less than flawless record; I am assuming from the sound of the background noise that these are acetate discs and not vinyl or shellac. There is a bit of drop out here and there, and the big choral entrance is merely a wash of sound, with there being no text comprehensibility whatever. This is to be expected given the age and quality of the source discs.

What is most impressive about this and nearly every other Guild release that I have ever encountered is the superb documentation. This is the way that all classical CDs should be presented; with detailed essays on the artists and the music, factually accurate and scholarly written, but without the academic mishmash and the blow by blow descriptions of the music. I will confess that I found Richard Caniell’s essay on Ferrier’s life and work just a bit over the top in its gushing admiration of the artist, but he is entitled to admire whomever he pleases, and there is nothing wrong with being a bit effusive on a subject that one finds exciting.

I was also thrilled, given that I am a pretty big fan of early radio, that the announcer’s commentaries were left intact, giving us that wonderful “War of the Worlds” feeling that can only come with placing oneself in the past, in front of an old radio, thus gaining entrance into the theatre of the mind.

This will not be a release with appeal for the casual listener. The sound quality, exceptional as it is under the circumstances, will be bothersome to those not specifically interested in historical recordings. But for those of you who are historical enthusiasts, jump on this beautiful release. It is a treasure well worth the cash outlay.
Kevin Sutton


MUSICWEB SATURDAY 04 MARCH 2006

Guild have already issued this performance and reviews (from 2002) can be found above. It certainly says much for their idealism that, having discovered a better sound source than those formerly known, instead of just shrugging their shoulders and saying “if only we’d known …”, they have produced a new edition. They have also taken the opportunity to correct the date, previously given as 6 July, and since I don’t find the excess of apostrophes of which my colleague Jonathan Woolf complained, the booklet has evidently been revised too.

I must confess I haven’t heard the previous issues, but I can report that though the sound is constricted – rather as you would have heard it on a small but goodish medium-wave radio set of the day – detail and balance in the first three movements is remarkably clear. It would be idle to pretend that you get more than a rough impression of what’s going on in the cataclysmic parts of the finale – even modern technology is tested to the limit here – but the sound doesn’t actually buckle under and packs a considerable punch. There’s the sort of husky sound to the strings which I’ve always associated with excessive de-hissing and de-noising, but since a technical note assures us that all such intervention has been kept to the minimum precisely to avoid such effects, evidently this was a characteristic of the original tape.

That there is so much clarity except under extreme pressure says much for the performance itself. Klemperer conducts a remarkably “modern”, proto-Boulezian interpretation, rigorously phrased and balanced with a sort of no-nonsense spring to the rhythms that put me in mind of neo-classical Stravinsky. It is remarkable that the orchestra whose strings had been, under Mengelberg, the unrivalled masters of “vocal” portamento and flexible phrasing has been scrubbed as clean as a whistle except where Mahler has actually marked “glissando” in the score. These are all scrupulously observed, implying that such devices are not an inherent part of the Mahler style, as they seem to be when Bruno Walter (or Barbirolli or Kubelik) conducts this music, but applied externally, in quotation marks as it were, as elements of parody. In keeping with the modern conception, the temperature is fairly cool except in the apocalyptic moments; here Klemperer is truly fearsome.

Unfortunately, the brass playing later on is not on the level of the rest. There has been some good quiet trumpet playing in the first three movement but for some reason the brass chords at the opening of “Urlicht” are loud and crude, suggestive of a second-rate Salvation Army band – the first trumpet has a vibrato which I’ve never previously associated with the Concertgebouw. Klemperer is generally unmagical in this movement so Kathleen Ferrier’s admirers – no other performance is preserved – are going to wish they could hear her in a different context. Ferrier didn’t enjoy working with Klemperer (“he shouts like a madman”) but sings with rock-steady professionalism and of course her timbre is unmistakeable. Her later interventions are brief and tend to be drowned by the insensitive trumpet-playing. Jo Vincent sings well without leaving any particular impression.

Mahler 2 was very much a Klemperer speciality and at least eight versions exist, beginning with a Sydney performance from 1950. From the same year as the Concertgebouw version was his first studio recording, for Vox, with Steingruber, Rössl-Majdan and the VSO. Ten years later came the renowned 1961 Philharmonia recording for EMI, with Schwarzkopf and Rössl-Majdan. >From 1963 comes a live VSO performance with Vishnevskaya and, once again, Rössl-Majdan, and another Philharmonia one with Heather Harper and Dame Janet Baker which is out on Testament. EMI have challenged themselves by issuing a live version from Munich with Bavarian Radio forces and Harper and Baker again as soloists. A later New Philharmonia taping (1971) with Finley and Hodgson is listed but may not have been issued. Those who wish to study Klemperer’s interpretation – still among the most imposing ever – will presumably choose the classic EMI studio issue, in good stereo sound for its date and in the running for a top version anyway. For those wishing to supplement it with a version from Klemperer’s slightly wilder earlier days (about five minutes shorter), the presence of Kathleen Ferrier and the fact that it is live seem to make this the most enticing of the three possible choices. For fans of Ferrier, whatever the problems this is the only performance they’ll ever hear.

Richard Caniell’s presentations in these Guild historical issues are usually informative and by no means afraid to criticise aspects of the performances. In this case his adulation of Ferrier has led him to love “not wisely, but too well”. Try this for size:

“Through Ferrier’s art, Mahler’s genius, this performance of the Resurrection, the following and final occasion in which she sang good-bye to her beloved earth in Das Lied von der Erde, we know that she and Mahler, together, have conquered darkness with light, sordidness with beauty and all the brawling, warring aspects of human existence with a higher truth which exists outside of time. Ferrier passed away, we pass on after her, but Mahler’s music and Ferrier’s voice – these are imperishable”.

The trouble is that the mockers and debunkers are out on Ferrier – notably David Hurwitz, but I’m not always an out-and-out admirer myself – so it seems a pity to throw a hostage to fortune in this way.
Christopher Howell


BBC Music Magazine – January 2003

What a relief to turn instead to OTTO KLEMPERER’s 1951 Holland Festival broadcast performance of Mahler’s Resurrection with the Concertgebouw Orchestra and soloists Kathleen Ferrier and Jo Vincent on glorious form. Although, like Schuricht, Klemperer opts for fast tempi and eschews overstated rubato, there’s so much more subtlety and drive in his interpretation. While this outstandingly dynamic performance has already appeared on a mid-price Decca CD, the new transfer on Guild Historical has great immediacy, and the documentation, which extends to 26 pages and includes full texts and translations, is extraordinarily generous given the price of the disc.

Two more releases of broadcast material from concerts conducted by ARTU RO TOSCANINI, also an Guild, deserve the widest dissemination. The 1947 NBC Symphony Orchestra performance of Berlioz’s Romeo and Juliet is riveting from start to finish, and a bonus CD, featuring extended excerpts from the maestro’s rehearsals for the concert, conveys an almost unparalleled degree of energy and involvement in the music. The other CD provides excerpts from a 1942 War Bond Concert and a full programme of the Vaughan Williams Tallis Fantasia,  Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Overture and Brahms’s Third from 1938. The Brahms is particularly strong – a far more expansive and fluid performance than the better- known RCA recording of 1952.


INTERNATIONAL RECORD REVIEW AUGUST 02

These two performances of the Resurrection Symphony, the first live from the Holland Festival in 1951, the second a studio recording from 1968, are both impressive documents, but it is hardly an exaggeration to say that they seem to inhabit different worlds. lf you happen to come by both of them, listen, as I did, to the Haitink recording first. In a hotly competitive field, it is one of the finest of what might be called central interpretations. Although the symphony is a programmatic work, Haitink ensures, first and foremost, that it maintains its formal properties. The opening, which can suggest the onset of an epileptic fit, is given as the germ from which the first movement will develop, and as is usual with Haitink’s Mahler, there is a sobriety of approach which brings its own rewards, even if sometimes one wonders whether this desperate music is best served by such a mature treatment. Whether it is or not, interest is sustained and the 20-minute-Iong structure more or less coheres.

The second movement, however, is too prim. A leisurely piece, its tongue slightly in its check, Haitink’s account outstays its welcome. Perhaps he was eager to make a marked contrast with the third movement, Mahler’s tendency to write middle movements which are insufficiently differentiated already becoming apparent. Aafje Heynis’s contralto solo is imposing, but she is no more than adequate in this understated fourth movement. The last movement once more finds Haitink successfully imparting to, or revealing in, a huge structure which can seem merely episodic a genuine coherence. This means that the final chorus of resurrection takes its proper place as the work’s coping stone. The soloists, Elly Ameling characteristically radiant, help to bring it to its – on this occasion – moving close.

Go back 17 years, listen to the Dutch announcer, and then prepare for what is admittedly a far from ideal recording. This was not meant for commercial release, so sounds far less impressive than, say, Beethoven’s Ninth given at Bayreuth three weeks later under Furtwängler (this Mahler performance is from July 12th, not July 6th, as Guild states). What is astonishing is that the relatively primitive sonics detract so little from appreciation of what is truly an apocalyptic experience. Klemperer was a kind of specialist in the Resurrection Symphony, using it as his visiting card on many occasions, and giving a vivid account of it in London in one of his last concerts in 1970. None of it seems tawdry under him, and though there are no Bernsteinian histrionics, the fact that it is one of those works which is supposed to make a difference to the history of the world – and while one is listening one may be persuaded that it will – is everywhere apparent. The grim intensity of this first movement (lasting three minutes less than under Haitink) yields to an enchanting second movement, which shows how charming both Mahler and his protégé could be when they put their minds to it. The transcendental nature of the work is re-established in the wonderful hush that ushers in Kathleen Ferrier’s sublime singing of ‘Urlicht’. Then all hell is let loose at the opening of the last movement, and we move on to the strange contrasts of last trump and twittering birds, before the final apotheosis. The recording can hardly cope with the final minutes, but it would be a small spirit who rejected the recording on that account. There is minimal interference with the original source. The notes are very full and informative.
Michael Tanner


Classical Music on the Web – Thursday May 02 02

Richard Caniell, founder and driving force behind this series, justifies the issue of this disc on two counts. The first is as a tribute to Ferrier, with whose vocal artistry and personality he is, like many others, obviously infatuated.

Of course there is another reason – Otto Klemperer. Yes, he recorded the work, under studio conditions, and in that wonderful recording venue, London’s Kingsway Hall, a few years later. But, that recording, reissued as an EMI “Great Recording of the Century”, lacks the exuberant vitality found in this version of the long last movement. Rössl-Majdan is no match for Ferrier although Schwartzkopf is superior to Vincent.

The informative booklet contains a number of brief essays by Caniell. The one on Ferrier is particularly poignant. One cannot say enjoyable as it relates to the deterioration of a lovely person and superb artist as she moved inexorably, in those pre-tomoxofen days (the anti-breast cancer ‘wonder’ drug) to a painful death. If you are a Mahler or Ferrier fan, and haven’t heard this performance, which is in good sound, then invest the modest cost, you will be well rewarded.

This performance has had previous life on LP and CD but this transfer from transcription discs has been accomplished without any electronic interference. The timing shown includes Broadcast Commentary at the start (1.00) and conclusion (0.50).
Robert J Farr

If you are a Mahler or Ferrier fan, and haven’t heard this performance, which is in good sound, then invest the modest cost, you will be well rewarded. …