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Schubert: Symphony No 4; Mahler: Das Lied Von Der Erde / Kubelik, Vienna Philharmonic

Schubert / Mahler / Kubelik
Release Date: 01/25/2011 
Label:  Orfeo   Catalog #: 820102  
Composer:  Franz SchubertGustav Mahler
Performer:  Waldemar KmenttHilde Rössl-Majdan
Conductor:  Rafael Kubelik
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

MAHLER Das Lied von der Erde. SCHUBERT Symphony No. 4 Rafael Kubelík, cond; Hilde Rössel-Majdan (mez); Waldemar Kmentt (ten); Vienna Phil ORFEO 820102, mono (2 CDs: 90:22) Live: Salzburg 8/30/1959

This taped concert comes from the archives of Salzburg’s summer festivals, which hold a rich treasure trove of historical opera and orchestral performances. Rafael Kubelík, who, of course, enjoyed a long association with Read more the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, taped a later, stereo Das Lied in a 1970 live performance with the orchestra joined by Janet Baker and the same tenor as on the present recording, Waldemar Kmentt. Unfortunately, I don’t have that version, so I can’t tell you how it compares to this 1959 performance; and though it was released on Audite in 2002, I don’t find a review of it in the Fanfare Archive. There also exists on a two-CD EMI Seraphim set a recording of Schubert’s Fourth Symphony with Kubelík and the Vienna Philharmonic, but it’s not coupled with the Mahler, and I don’t know if it’s the same performance that’s on this disc or not.

I’ll begin with the Schubert since it occupies the whole of disc 1. If you’re not mono-averse, this is a wonderful performance of the 19-year-old composer’s score to add to your collection of more recent versions. Kubelík commands a disciplined unanimity from the Vienna players that I don’t hear in either Kertész’s or Muti’s recordings with the orchestra. The first movement, taken without its exposition repeat of course, is articulated very cleanly and goes at a quite sufficiently brisk tempo. There’s a tendency, I think, among modern conductors, especially of the period-instrument persuasion, to take this movement hell-bent-for-leather. True, Schubert qualified his Allegro with a vivace , but he didn’t halve the 4/4 meter to cut time. The Andante is lovingly shaped. The Menuetto, if a little heavy-footed, is not so swift that it loses its dance character altogether. And the concluding Allegro, which Schubert did specify in cut time, goes like the wind. This is a very nice performance and the recorded sound is quite respectable.

Dedicated Mahlerites will naturally find their interest drawn more to Kubelík’s Das Lied von der Erde . I will tell you first that I was amazed by the presence and depth (front-to-back, as opposed to left-right) dimensionality of the sound. One barely notices that the recording is in mono let alone misses the stereo aspect.

Second, though as stated, I’ve not heard Waldemar Kmentt’s later team-up with Kubelík, Baker, and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, the tenor’s voice in this earlier performance is in absolutely prime estate. His “Das Trinklied” emerges effortlessly with full, rounded tone, and not a hint of forcing or discomfort on the highest notes.

Third, with regard to the mezzo numbers—“Der Einsame im Herbst,” “Von den Schönheit,” and the concluding pages of “Der Abschied”—I do have Janet Baker with James King and Haitink leading the Concertgebouw, and here’s the good news and the bad. The good news is that Hilde Rössel-Madjan’s mezzo-soprano comes from somewhere down deep, more contralto-ish than mezzo-ish, which suits Mahler’s music better, I think, than Baker’s slightly lighter-toned voice. The bad news is that Rössel-Madjan’s projection and diction sound somewhat muffled and mushy, almost as if, from time to time, she’s singing with a dishrag stuffed in her mouth. I’m going to give her the benefit of the doubt by casting aspersions on the acoustics of Salzburg’s Festpielhaus and/or the microphone pickup, which seem to have been kinder to Kmentt.

Finally, the Vienna Philharmonic plays Mahler’s score as if each individual player knew Mahler personally, which, in 1959 when this performance took place, some of them, no doubt, probably had. But for those not old enough at the time for primary contact, they would have come to know Mahler through his emissary Bruno Walter, who had led the orchestra seven years before Kubelík in one of the all-time classic performances of Das Lied with Kathleen Ferrier and Julius Patzak, a recording originally released (and still available) on Decca and since recycled on at least a couple of labels I’m aware of, Opus Kura and Regis.

For dedicated Mahler fans, there’s no question but that Kubelík’s Das Lied will be self-recommending, even though it is a bit spoiled for me by Rössel-Madjan’s marred vocal production, which, as noted, may not have been her fault. In any case, a worthy addition to the legacy of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde on record.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 4 in C minor, D 417 "Tragic" by Franz Schubert
Conductor:  Rafael Kubelik
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1816; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 8/30/1959 
Venue:  Live Salzburg Festival 
Das Lied von der Erde by Gustav Mahler
Performer:  Waldemar Kmentt (Tenor), Hilde Rössl-Majdan (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Rafael Kubelik
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1908-1909; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 8/30/1959 
Venue:  Live Salzburg Festival 

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