LABELS: Music & Arts
WORKS: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 2; Symphony No. 3; Symphony No. 4; Symphony No. 5; Symphony No. 6; Symphony No. 7; Symphony No. 8; Symphony No. 9; Symphony No. 10 (excerpts) -Check if excerpts of all
PERFORMER: Mimi Coertse, Hilde Zadek (soprano), Beatrice Krebs, Lucretia West, Ira Malaniuk (contralto), Giuseppe Zampieri (tenor), Hermann Prey (baritone), Otto Edelmann (bass)Choirs, New York Philharmonic SO, Cologne Radio Orchestra, Vienna PO/Dimitri Mitropoulo
CATALOGUE NO: CD-1021 AAD
Mitropoulos was the man whose searing performances turned Leonard Bernstein to conducting, and who re-established Mahler’s symphonies in the New York Philharmonic’s repertoire. These two vital facts are easily forgotten in the welter of biographical sensationalism. Yes, Bernstein did betray his master twice – the first time, it seems, by denouncing the very homosexuality they had in common – but the greater unfairness is the Mahlerian thunder he stole from his recently deceased idol in the early Sixties. Mitropoulos was the true pioneer, blazing a trail with the 1956 performance of the Third Symphony we hear on this set. True, it’s heavily cut, most damagingly in the first movement, and Mitropoulos virtually burns up the flowers of the field in a hair-raising Tempo di menuetto. But the thumbprints of blistering intensity and shocking detail we associate with Bernstein are here throughout.
Other New York interpretations are drawn from the Mahler festival Mitropoulos conducted in the last year of his life. Levels of concentration and energy are much higher than the noisy audience deserves, and the focused, sometimes pointedly coarse playing wins us round to more questionably brisk tempi (especially in the scherzo of the Ninth). The Vienna Eighth is something of a minefield, featuring a wretched Italian tenor, contralto Lucretia West entering a bar early for her big second-movement solo and a desperately flat harmonium for the winging-in of the Mater gloriosa.
Nevertheless there are stretches of greatness that go beyond any other performance of the work I’ve ever heard – not least the whole of the final, celestial hymn. Only the sound of the Cologne Sixth fails to give the gist of the performance, and if you want just a one-disc sample of the Mitropoulos phenomenon, then his much earlier Minneapolis First (Sony) has the polished edge over this one. It’s a shame the interesting booklet note is about Mitropoulos rather than Mitropoulos’s Mahler. Still, this remains an indispensable document for anyone interested in the living history of Mahler performances.