dashea, Rattle's 10th with BPO is unquestionably a very good CD, and it's great to hear that verified by a professional musician. Regarding the picking-on-your-instrument thing, I think it really quite common with professional musicians. I have several friends who play in a professional orchestra, and everytime we go to a concert they always have something to say about the performance of their own instruments. One of them is a trumpet player, and I often pity the trumpet players in the wind band he conducts on the side. They get disproportional attention from him and often have a hard time before and after a performance.
I recently acquired two of Bruno Walter's historical Mahler recordings. Das Lied von der Erde (with Kathleen Ferrier & Julius Patzak) was interesting but doesn't really stand out among the zillion different versions out there. The 9th with VPO, on the other hand, is rather remarkable and therefore I've decided to bore you all with a review:
Since I was introduced to the 9th symphony by modern performances, my impression of how it should
be done is very much the modern way. Therefore, all the description here are relative to the mainstream modern rendition of this work.
Being recorded in 1938, the sound quality obviously leaves much to be desired. It was particularly bad in the beginning of the 1st movement and got progressively better. I don't really understand how recording worked back then (it seemed to involve wax somehow) so I'm not going to comment. Performance wise, the first half of 1st movement doesn't differ from modern ones much. Walter's conducting possess much energy and is quite rigorous as most musicians of his days, and the first movement was presented in a calculated and gentle manner.
Despite the ubiquitous criticism toward modern conductors' slower approaches to Mahler's symphonies, I was still utterly shocked by Walter's intepretation of the 2nd movement. Gone was the familiar gradualism and suspense; the accelerated play simply overwhelms its audience and leaves them breathless. The strings was much firmer and more confident than modern performances. However, one negative effect of this massive quickening, in my opinion, is the loss of detail of each soli instruments. As we entered the second part of this movement, the variations in speed became considerably more perceptible yet perfectly transparent. In a way it was like an emotion roller-caster, and converted this movement's role from a transitional sidekick to a leading cast.
Instead of an undifferentiated accelaration like before, Walter dramatized the opening of the third movement. I also suspect the version he had is different from what we commonly hear nowadays since there are notable discrepancies in length of certain notes.
Unsurprisingly, the 4th movement was very fast, and perhaps even more so than the other 3 movements. I must say this makes it tremedously less depressing. The first thought that occurred to me was: "Gee he really wanted to get done with it ASAP", as the pain and grief we're used to hear in this movement were barely detectable. Perhaps this really was his intention. This symphony was Mahler's farewell to this world, and as close to Mahler as Walter was, it was probably excruciating for him to linger for long. With that in mind, this movement suddenly seemed as emotional as any other version.
In all, I tend consider this CD more of an alternative interpretation rather than the
reference recording as some choose to do. It is fun
to listen to this recording once in a while, but to put it on my regular list will probably be quite a mental anguish; largely due to poor sound quality. If somehow I can get hold of his 1961 recording with Columbia, however, I'm sure it would become my favorite version of the 9th symphony.