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Reviews: Mahler: Symphony No. 10 (Adagio), Kindertotenlieder - Bernstein

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Reviews: 1

Site review by ramesh November 28, 2007
Performance:   Sonics:  
[ First impression review ]

This forms part of the CBS Mahler cycle recorded by Bernstein with the New York Philharmonic, the Israel Philharmonic and the London Symphony Orchestra during the Sixties up to the mid-70s. Previously Sony had released only the First Symphony on a single layer SACD, very ungenerously shorn of its CD coupling, the Adagio from the unfinished Tenth. This movement here appears with its original LP coupling [ my very first Mahler record ], Janet Baker's performance of the Kindertotenlieder, which is not to be confused with her earlier recording for EMI with Barbirolli.

This series is released by Sony Japan in hybrid SACDs at full price, featuring stereo and 'Multi-5ch' [ sic ] SACD layers. The back of the booklet cover features a reproduction, legible by magnifying glass, of the back of the original LP cover. There are otherwise only notes in Japanese. The 'reissue producer & DSD mastering engineer' is Andreas Meyer. As I do not have the bargain price CD set of this Mahler series, I cannot confirm that these are new remasterings of either the CD or SACD stereo layer, but the Nichi strip implies new DSD remasterings.

The Adagio was originally recorded in 1975 in the CBS 30th St studio in NYC, the Kindertotenlieder at the Mann auditorium in Tel Aviv in 1974. I recall that my original LP was a Quad performance, which further deteriorated the tonal balance of CBS LPs, which often stood for 'Crappy Bassless Sound'. Readers may recall that most of Bernstein's Mahler was recorded in 3 track, and later performances in 4 track. I presume that these performances were originally in 4 track, so I have no idea how they were transformed into 5.0 sound. As I do not have a MC setup, I cannot report on the success or otherwise of this transformation.

The Adagio of 10 has virtually no tape hiss audible in stereo. The contrast to the opening of the KIndertotenlieder is quite jarring with its significant tape hiss and insufficient space between the two performances. As these are 1970s vintage tapes, I suspect that in the Adagio, the CBS engineers employed excess Dolby noise reduction in the original recording. This has led to the negligible tape hiss, but also a shearing of the upper harmonics. The sound is on the dull side compared to what we are now used to in good analogue or DSD recordings. In stereo, there is excessive separation of channels, with the violins hard left and cellos hard right. Presumably this sounds better in MC. The Kindertotenlieder has greater fidelity in the higher frequencies, with the glockenspiel notes sounding more realistic than in early digital recordings. However, Janet Baker is recorded very closely to the microphones, exposing every slight beat, wobble and sibilant in the voice. Nevertheless, there is no 'digital edge' in the voice. As the orchestra sounds somewhat dry and thin, it is possible that the original recording engineers deliberately recorded her closely to the mikes. Their reason would be to capture the bloom in the voice which otherwise would've been lost with a more appropriate balance in the auditorium's intrinsically dry acoustic. As it is, the recording has an impression of a disconnect between the voice and orchestra. Instead of stage depth, there is a forward layer consisting of voice and the occasional refugee from the orchestra, and a rear orchestral layer which is attached.

Both performances are great. The closeness of Baker's voice imparts a degree of intimacy and urgency to her interpretations, which veer to the romantic end of the spectrum compared to the more restrained, classical sense of the EMI recording. Vocal purists who are perturbed by minor imperfections in intonation and evenness of tone production are best advised to listen before buying.

The Mahler 10 Adagio appears to be of the corrupt early edition by Krenek, although it would need a score to confirm this. The performance sounds far less 'interventionist' than is associated with Bernstein. The haunting opening phrases on the violas are less moulded than in Rattle's lauded version with the Berlin PO, performed as though existing outside of normal concepts of rhythm. Very little appears to be spotlighted by the conductor. The placing of the great dissonant climax is unerring, with the relative restraint in the first third of the work a sign that the conductor has his sights set on the greater span of the work. Although this remastering cannot obscure the original misjudgements in balance and noise limiting, the DSD transfer highlights the strengths in these performances, for which the original LP issue was found wanting, at least by me!