Mahler Das Lied von der Erde
''A finer performance than this would not be a song of earth'', wrote the Record Guide (Collins, 1955) of this legendary performance which was recorded in the Grosser Musikvereinssaal, Vienna in May 1952 with Victor Olof as producer and Arthur Haddy as balance engineer. The authors also added, ''and the recording is excellent'', a view which LP collectors might not have subsequently endorsed but which this altogether remarkable transfer to CD in some measure approves.
High tessitura string and vocal contributions are occasionally somewhat shrill and lacking in body when set alongside Giulini's very recent Berlin recording on DG; but often—and I find this quite astounding—one might be in the hall with the VPO and these remarkable artists. If what we hear on this transfer from the master tapes in the fifth song is significantly different from what Bruno Walter heard as tenor, solo violin and flute raptly commune, I should be very surprised. Equally astounding is the way the newly transferred recording conveys the sheer weight and body of the Vienna Philharmonic's tone. How easily can we now appreciate the passion, drive, and guile of Walter's conducting, with its subtle colourings and many barely perceptible rubatos. The opening song is especially thrilling, with Patzak more persuasively 'there' in the musical picture than is Araiza on the newer Giulini. The post-war VPO winds, the oboe especially, may strike some as curiously nasal. (But closer to the sound Mahler knew? Throw in gut strings and you would have Mahler joining the original instruments phenomenon.) Yet it is the very complexity and idiosyncrasy of the orchestral timbres which help give this reading its special interest. No one has conducted or played the elusive third movement better than this; the pace is ideal, and Patzak, though no longer in his prime, outpoints every rival except possibly Wunderlich on the later Klemperer LP.
And beyond this there is Ferrier, an artist born to sing this music and singing it here at a time so close to her own death as to make this a real, truly harrowing song of farewell.
A year or two ago we wondered whether repertoire, especially old 'classic' repertoire, might be a problem for CD. This superb, historically important new transfer banishes all such thoughts. Were Walter, Ferrier, and Patzak alive today, they would rightly account the record a miracle.'