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Mitropoulos Conducts Mahler: Symphonies 1, 3, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10


Release Date: 07/14/2002 
Label:  Music & Arts Programs Of America Catalog #: 1021   Spars Code: AAD 
Composer:  Gustav Mahler
Performer:  Beatrice KrebsHermann PreyOtto EdelmannMimi Coertse,   ... 
Conductor:  Dimitri Mitropoulos
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Philharmonic Symphony OrchestraCologne West German Radio Symphony OrchestraVienna State Opera Chorus,   ... 
Number of Discs: 6 
Recorded in: Mono 
Length: 7 Hours 34 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Many collectors will have heard these performances one way or another, but Music & Arts isn't kidding when it tells us that these performances were remastered in 1998 "from the best available sources." The live sound is great, considering its age. (Credit goes to Maggi Payne.) Furthermore, six and a fraction Mahler symphonies on six well-filled CDs, and for the price of four, is a bargain. But all this good stuff would be as useless as a preacher in a house of ill-repute if it weren't for the blazing nature of the musicianship. Our Editor usually passes Mitropoulos discs my way because he knows I sympathize, so perhaps my opinions are biased. Nevertheless, I think I am speaking reasonably when I say that all good Mahlerians Read more will want these discs. No, they will need them. That Mitropoulitans such as myself will have to have them is predictable, and only right. In short, this is a fabulous collection: an orgy of great music interpreted greatly.

Context is needed. In the late 1950s, Mitropoulos was being driven out of New York in favor of the younger, more photogenic, more glamorous, and publicly heterosexual Leonard Bernstein. (Bernstein's role in Mitropoulos's downfall is traced in William R. Trotter's Priest of Music: The Life of Dimitri Mitropoulos, which is published by Amadeus Press.) Lest it be thought that I am about to engage in Lenny-bashing, let me reassure readers that I believe him to be one of the century's great conductors. His reputation, however, has come to eclipse Mitropoulos's. There is an unfair tendency, particularly in America, to regard Bernstein as the conductor who single-handedly brought Mahler's music back to life, proving it was playable by orchestras and listenable by audiences. This set shows that Mitropoulos was performing the music too, and his interpretations were not those of an also-ran. Bernstein's Mahler, then, didn't just appear out of nowhere, and it wasn't until the last decade of his life that he had the maturity to be a deep conductor of Mahler, rather than simply an entertaining one.

Here, Mitropoulos was at the end of his life. In fact, all of these performances but one find him less than 15 months from death. (The Third, recorded in New York, is from 1956. I'm not sure why Music & Arts didn't use the Third recorded in Cologne three days before his death. It's been available on several "pirate" labels and is regarded as superior to the one offered here.) There's nothing sickly about this Mahler, though. Like Bernstein, Mitropoulos was a dramatic conductor, and his intensely physical response to the music was communicated to the orchestra and to the listeners. Unlike Bernstein, though, Mitropoulos's Mahler never is self-indulgently neurotic, and the Greek conductor never strains for effect, never neglects to look for the light and the shade. There are some stretches of conducting (try the first two movements of the Fifth) where the effect produced is positively nerve-wracking, but they are balanced by other stretches of such tender, consoling beauty that Mahler's muse comes to seem more Classic than Expressionistic.

Turning to individual performances, it is interesting to compare the "live" New York First with the studio version he recorded with the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra for Columbia Records in 1940. (It's now on Sony Masterworks Heritage MHK 62342. Incidentally, it was the symphony's first recording ever.) Twenty years later, Mitropoulos took slower tempos in all the movements, but most dramatically in the finale (19:58 vs. 17:18). The bulk of the difference comes from the movement's last third, where the added breadth pays a big emotional dividend. Perhaps because his New York orchestra was so much better, Mitropoulos finds delicious subtleties that were beyond the Minneapolitans. Try the stealing in of Spring—it's a little comic, and it's oh-so-very tender.

In 1956, it had been 34 years since the Third Symphony had been conducted in New York (by Mengelberg). It almost tums into a different piece in the performance preserved here. Most conductors take 33 or 34 minutes to traverse the massive opening movement, the composer's longest non-vocal stretch. Mitropoulos's idea is to show that it can be done in 25 without seeming rushed. Incredibly, he succeeds—try the boisterous "Rabble" section to see what benefits he brings to it. The audience breaks into spontaneous applause after this movement. The other movements are fast too; some of the passages in the Third approach the alarming. This certainly is a potent performance, one that left me feeling better about the symphony as a whole than I sometimes do. But there's no denying that the instrumental and vocal balances are odd, and that the orchestra has its rough times. For me, what really throws this performance into left field is the fact that it is sung in English! The fourth movement isn't too bad, but when the fifth begins with—I kid you not—childish cries of "Boing! Boing!" you know you've wandered into the Twilight Zone. And what about the same movement's fade-out? The choruses aren't identified. Perhaps this is just as well, because they have problems with singing in tune.

The Fifth Symphony was performed just one week before the First reviewed above. As with all of the performances dating from January 1960 (this includes the Ninth and the Tenth), this is very strong Mahler. My first impression of this performance was that it is neurotic as all hell, but subsequent listens moderated that impression somewhat. What does characterize this performance, for me, is its sensitivity to the music's emotional ebb and flow. Of course. Mahler divided the symphony into three parts, the first part comprised of the first two movements, the second part comprised of only the third movement, and the last part comprised of the last two movements. Mitropoulos's is the only performance 1 know of that finds a different sound, a different temperament, if you will, for each of the three parts. The effect is striking. The first part is tense, even vicious, but then there's a sea change in the Janus-faced Scherzo. The Adagietto (11:03) takes on erotic proportions, and the Rondo-Finale is perhaps the only relative disappointment, not building to the triumph one ideally wants as an end to this symphony. Some noise, not unlike that of a slightly mistuned AM radio station, creeps into the fourth movement. Otherwise, all goes well.

The Sixth Symphony, recorded in 1959 with the Cologne Radio Orchestra, is relatively traditional, but hardly dull. It gets stronger as it progresses: the Scherzo—terribly bitter, in this performance— has a singularly menacing, grotesque trio, and the third movement heaves with a heavy passion. While remaining within traditional parameters of tempo, Mitropoulos's Finale is unwontedly coherent... and fatalistic. Perhaps surprisingly, the German orchestra is a little more reliable, even if it does reach the heights of inspiration heard in the New York tapings. The quality of the sound is A-OK.

Probably the most familiar of these performances is the Eighth, which was recorded in Vienna in August 1960. (Again, remember this was only a few months before the conductor's death.) It has been released on several different labels. It was the first Mahler Eighth I owned, before I was old enough to know what I was doing. (It was coupled with a "live" recording of Mahler's Second, conducted by Klemperer. Call it beginner's luck.) In his book, Trotter recounts how Mitropoulos, uncharacteristically, was beside himself with frustration during rehearsals. The concert, however, was regarded as a triumph. The first movement unfolds with unhurried glory; the female soloists are especially radiant. In the second movement, Prey distinguishes himself in his long solo, but overall, I just don't find the voltage to be very high. The sound is only middling, apparently having been spliced together from two or more different sources. In this symphony, my affection lies with Bernstein's first commercial recording of the work, still available in the "Royal Edition."

One begins to suspect that, at least at the end of his life, Mitropoulos became a different conductor whenever he was in New York—almost as if he had to prove something to the orchestra, the critics, or the audiences. Once again, the Ninth Symphony, and the torso of the Tenth, are given white-heat performances in the latter half of January 1960. Mitropoulos so moved the New Yorkers with the Ninth that he said, "Perhaps Gustav Mahler led my baton from the beyond," a ghoulish statement, given the conductor's failing health. But Mitropoulos does not go gentle into that good night—there is anger mingled with the resignation in the Adagio. And, in the Rondo, Mitropoulos predictably finds the darkest colors in Mahler's superficial high spirits. Just listen to the opening bassoon scales and you'll hear communicative musicianship of the highest order.

I believe Mitropoulos conducted all of Mahler's symphonies, with the exception of the "Resurrection." He conducted the Fourth in Minneapolis and the Seventh in New York—how exciting it would be if tapes of those performances were to surface. Also, how exciting it would have been if the present symphonies had been recorded in the studio, and in stereo. It should have been so. Nevertheless, this set contains more than one can digest quickly, and it can create nothing but support for Dimitri Mitropoulos's still-rising reputation. How ironic that it has taken more than 35 years for that resurrection to take place!

-- Raymond Tuttle, FANFARE
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Works on This Recording

1.
Symphony no 1 in D major "Titan" by Gustav Mahler
Conductor:  Dimitri Mitropoulos
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1888/1896 
Date of Recording: 01/09/1960 
Venue:  Live  Carnegie Hall, New York City 
Notes: Composition written: Leipzig, Germany (1888).
Composition revised: Germany (1896). 
2.
Symphony no 3 in D minor by Gustav Mahler
Performer:  Beatrice Krebs (Alto)
Conductor:  Dimitri Mitropoulos
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1893-1896; Hamburg, Germany 
Date of Recording: 04/15/1956 
Venue:  Live  Carnegie Hall, New York City 
3.
Symphony no 5 in C sharp minor by Gustav Mahler
Conductor:  Dimitri Mitropoulos
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1901-1902; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 01/02/1960 
Venue:  Live  Carnegie Hall, New York City 
4.
Symphony no 6 in A minor "Tragic" by Gustav Mahler
Conductor:  Dimitri Mitropoulos
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cologne West German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1904/1906; Austria 
Date of Recording: 08/31/1959 
Venue:  Live  West German Radio, Cologne, Germany 
5.
Symphony no 8 in E flat major "Symphony of A Thousand" by Gustav Mahler
Performer:  Hermann Prey (Baritone), Otto Edelmann (Bass), Mimi Coertse (Soprano),
Hilde Zadek (Soprano), Lucretia West (Alto), Ira Malaniuk (Alto),
Giuseppe Zampieri (Tenor)
Conductor:  Dimitri Mitropoulos
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna State Opera Chorus,  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra,  Vienna Friends of Music Society  ... 
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1906; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 08/28/1960 
Venue:  Live  Salzburg, Austria 
6.
Symphony no 10 in F sharp minor/major: 1st movement, Adagio by Gustav Mahler
Conductor:  Dimitri Mitropoulos
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1910; Austria 
Date of Recording: 01/17/1960 
7.
Symphony no 9 in D major by Gustav Mahler
Conductor:  Dimitri Mitropoulos
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1908-1909; Austria 
Date of Recording: 01/23/1960 
Venue:  Live  Carnegie Hall, New York City 

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