Bruno Walter's final word on the work he premièred 50 years earlier: Das Lied von der Erde
"exceptional insight into, and sympathy with, Mahler's thought, and ability to capture every nuance of his melancholy sensitivity" - The Gramophone
MAHLER Das Lied von der Erde [notes / score]
Recorded 18 & 25 April 1960
Manhattan Center, New York City
First US LP issues on Columbia M2L 255 (mono) and M2S 617 (stereo)
First UK LP issues on Philips ABL3368 (mono) and SABL 197 (stereo)
REVIEW - UK LP issue (Philips)Comparisons here begin even before getting as far as the turntable, for it will be seen that this is the first stereo recording on only two sides (the others also having an uncomfortable change-over in the middle of the Abschied). Within the first few moments of playing, it becomes apparent that this is by far the best actual recording so far: the Klemperer (awkwardly coupled with the Second Symphony) is dislikeable in quality, the Rosbaud restricted in range, the Kletzki for all its excellences (and they are many) unrealistic in the balance of the voices, the 1951 Walter very good indeed for its age but rather veiled in general. But the chief advantage of this set, as one hears, is the direction of Mahler's disciple and protege Bruno Walter, who conducted the work's premiere exactly half a century ago(!) and made the first recording of it as early as 1936. It is superfluous at this date to speak of Walter's exceptional insight into, and sympathy with, Mahler's thought, and his ability to capture every nuance of his melancholy sensitivity. Although many other conductors perform Mahler, his readings have a peculiar inevitability and authenticity about them, and one has to agree with Philips' claim that this is the great artist's "final refinement of his life-long work". The performance is flexible but shapely, emotional without being over sentimental. Just occasionally indeed, one wonders whether the New York Philharmonic - which plays superbly, with ravishing tone and perfect ensemble - might not have allowed itself a fraction more sensuousness, more Viennese-iness (I am thinking particularly of the Von der Schönheit movement); but one feels slightly ungrateful in saying so, since again and again the playing moves one to murmurs of delight. Ernst Haefliger is a sure and intelligent soloist, wIth a firm, virile tone: he finds no difficulty in the high tessitura of the work though I wish, in Der Trunkene im Frühling that he had taken the top notes pianissimo where marked. One tiny flaw, incidentally: the first note in the phrase "Die Laute schlagen" in the first movement is missing, eIther because didn't sing it or because his microphone wasn't up. The only facet of this recording which may give rise to criticism is the casting of a mezzo-soprano for the other voice (though even that seems to me more appropriate than a baritone). Mildred Miller sings the part most beautifully, with a fine sense of line and nuance, obvious musicality and very clear words; but a mezzo voice lacks the sheer weight and coloration of a contralto and without necessarily hankering after too fruity a tone (which certain interpreters of the part have given us), one feels the present solution not Ideal. The special balance at "Der Bach singt" in Der Abschied, where the flute has to take precedence over the female voice, is well managed: indeed , throughout the work the balance is very good, and the dynamic range satisfyingly wide. The movements are separated by scrolls in the stereo version, but not, for some reason, in the mono.
L.S., The Gramophone, June 1961
Review of Philips UK LP issue
Having conducted the première performance of Das Lied von der Erde in Munich on 20 November 1911, some six months after his close friend and long-time musical colleague and mentor, Gustav Mahler's death, all of Bruno Walter's performances and recordings of the work come inevitably with an extra ring of "authenticity". He recorded the work three times, each effectively in a different era of recording technology. The first, made in Vienna in 1936 with Kerstin Thorborg and Charles Kullman (PASC108) sits sqaurely in the 78rpm era, whilst the second, another Viennese production, this time for Decca in 1952 with Kathleen Ferrier and Julius Patzak (PASC109), was a star release of the early mono LP era. Here we find him, in his twilight years, in New York - with much improved sonics, and in full true stereo. Yet, as I've found with Walter's other late Columbia recordings, there remains room for considerable improvements in sound quality here; XR remastering this recording has greatly opened out and filled out the sound, lifting a veil from the top end, finding greater warmth and depth at in the bass and lower mid-range, and smoothing out some awkward hamornic peaks in the middle, to deliver a more natural sound from both singers and orchestra. Overall the result is entirely captivating!
CD cover to print