Recording of March 1963: Mahler: Symphony No.1

Mahler: Symphony No.1 in D (“The Titan”)

Columbia Symphony Orchestra, Bruno Walter, conductor

Columbia MS-6394 (LP). John McClure, prod. TT: 52:15

This is one of those rare combinations of a superb recording and a stunning performance. As far as I’m concerned, it is the best Mahler First that Bruno Walter committed to discs during his lifetime, including the last one that he made with the New York Philharmonic. And the fact that this recording is far superior to that accorded Walter when he conducted the New York Philharmonic does not detract one bit from my feeling about this new release. The playing is certainly equal to that of the New York orchestra, and something—perhaps the change of environment—inspired Bruno Walter to turn out a reading that is, if anything, even more dramatic and moving than his own recent effort with the New York Philharmonic.

There is, in truth, some of Columbia’s characteristic steeliness in the violins here, but there is much less of it than usual—hardly enough to quibble about. The bass is phenomenal: awesomely deep and solid, and other instrumental timbres and balances are eminently natural, while the whole thing is framed in an aura of open, airy spaciousness. There is no sense of the acoustics of the hall, which is to say there is just the right amount and quality of reverberation. Stereo separation is natural, but not exaggerated, and for once, there seems to be practically no receding of centered instruments into the background. Tracing was so clean and surfaces so quiet on my copy that it was easy to forget this sound was coming from a disc. Even the dynamic range is quite respectable—something that can rarely be said of a Columbia stereo disc.

All in all, this is one of the finest productions Columbia has given us in stereo. Let’s have more just like it, or better, even.—J. Gordon Holt

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