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Mahler Das Lied von de Erde
Walter & VSO, 1936
Profil Edn Hännsler PH 04043
Walter & VSO with Ferrier & Patzak, 1952
Naxos 8.110850 & 8.110871

A marvellous trip back to the post-War days when 78s of this first recorded performance introduced me to Mahler. I played them again and again, sharpening my thorn needles and winding up the gramophone!

I have not heard it again for half a century, so memory cannot be completely trusted. The voices of heroic tenor Charles Kullman and true contralto Kerstin Thorborg and are eager and sonorous as I remember them, likewise the handling of many crucial moments by Bruno Walter; those things one never forgets.

Not so sure whether too much might not have been ironed out with the shellac crackle - I look forward to reading expert comparative reviews of the versions of this performance on CD.

I endorse Profil's assertion that this "brisk and demonstrative" account of The Song of the Earth should be "prescribed listening" alongside the highest-fi modern versions.

But Hännsler's version on their Profil Edition has to compete with a flurry of Mahler on Naxos Historical which reached me a little later.

For £5 each disc, you can have the same performance in the Great Conductors series plus the Adagietto of the fifth symphony, or the May 1952 version (with Walter & Patzak) plus 8 songs as part of a completely irresistible Kathleen Ferrier sings Mahler twofer, with a delicious account of the fourth symphony as a fill-up - what a fill-up!

All these are carefully restore by the great specialist Mark Obert-Thorn, who describes his sources and methods meticulously.

For a mere £15 you can purchase all that, and your money will rarely be better spent. Again and again I find myself questioning the need for proliferation of new recordings of music which received definitive recordings long ago, these with the imprimatur that Bruno Walter worked closely with the composer himself.


© Peter Grahame Woolf