, March 2005
“Another fantastic addition to the Naxos Historical Great Conductors series, joining Walter’s versions of Mahler 9 and Das Lied von der Erde.
The disc opens with Walter accompanying Desi Halban in Mahler’s Lieder und Gesange aus der Jugendzeit. These early songs are here beautifully performed — Desi Halban has a lively and radiant voice, and it is interesting to hear Walter in the role of accompanist rather than conductor. He very much plays an unobtrusive second role, allowing the singer to shine through. Whilst the piano playing is good, it is nothing spectacular … he saves his brilliance for conducting, it would appear!
This performance of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony — the world premiere commercial recording — is reputedly the one with which the conductor was most happy. As a personal friend of Mahler’s, and one who had worked closely on the symphony’s revision and publication, I suggest we take his recommendation! It is, in any case, a superb performance, full of drive and energy, from the very first notes punched out by the trumpets with beautifully enunciated clarity and force. The sound that Walter creates is a little thin, hard, harsh and dark, which suits the music perfectly, and he takes it at a good pace. The Stürmisch bewegt section is wild, with rushing strings, and full of desperation, inescapable terror and ferocity. As is the case with all movements except the first, Walter takes this much faster than most modern conductors. The Scherzo is a restless struggle between frantic exhilaration and the threat and boding that keep breaking through. The last few notes of this movement could be slightly cleaner and snappier, but this is my only criticism with the whole performance. The famous Adagietto is notable for its lack of excess portamento. Instead, Walter imparts absolute clarity. He doesn’t wallow, as so many conductors do, but pushes the movement on, creating a sound that is vibrant and sobbing without being over indulgent. It is therefore, if anything, slightly understated and keeps total integrity. In the exuberant Rondo, Walter skips where other conductors might slush. Taken at a fairly precipitous speed, this is given an utterly frantic ending, with a tremendous, heady and intoxicating sound. Walter allows the individual instruments to sing out a lot more clearly and individually than other conductors, and whilst he doesn’t endue the work with a great deal of lyricism, he brings out Mahler’s sense of humour in the relevant sections. With excellent sound for 1947, this is a stunning performance, passionate, chilling and frenetic. Walter’s clarity of phrasing and tremendous drive are both remarkable. This authentic and stunning disc is a must–have for any Mahler lover.”