MAHLER Symphony No 9 – VPO/Walter
Bruno Walter conducted the first performance of Mahler's Ninth Symphony in 1912 (it is dedicated to him) as well as this, its first commercial recording. It bestrode no fewer than ten 78rpm discs and consumed many fibre needles! (I recall paying five shillings or 25p a record for this second-hand and playing the set almost every evening for weeks on end, doubtless to the despair of those within earshot.) Although later performances (including Walter's subsequent CBS recording in the early 1960s) have offered more polished orchestral playing and more vivid recording, none brings one closer to its world of feeling or takes one more deeply into its spirit. Its fires are white-hot and there is a blazing intensity that in my experience has never been surpassed on the gramophone. There is a demonic passion to the Rondo-Burlesque (the orchestra play as if their corporate life is at stake) and the final Adagio has a poignancy that once heard is not easily forgot ten. Even younger readers unencumbered by nostalgia will, I think, recognize the authenticity of feeling here and I would urge everyone who cares about Mahler to listen to it.
Of course, there can be no such thing as a 'definitive' performance but this is as near as one can get. This and a modern recording such as the Karajan (DG) or the Bernstein (CBS) are all one needs. Some years ago the Walter was excellently transferred to LP by Anthony Griffith (World Records—nla) with the Adagietto from the Fifth Symphony and the Siegfried Idyll as a fill-up. Let us hope that room can be found for the former as a fill-up, say, to Walter's l936 set of Das Liedwith Kerstin Thorbord and Charles Kullmann, which must surely follow before too long. The digital remastering by Keith Hardwick enables one to hear more detail than before. As AB's note says, ''more then 50 years later it [the Mahler Ninth] still carries a unique charge in terms of dedication and intensity of utterance''.'