mahler reiner erde hdtt

Gustav Mahler (1860-1911)
Das Lied von der Erde
Richard Lewis (tenor) Maureen Forrester (contralto)
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Fritz Reiner
rec. 1959, Orchestra Hall, Chicago
Reviewed as a 24/96 PCM Flac Digital Download
High Definition Tape Transfers HDTT11405 [63]

I refer you to David McDade’s excellent, recent review of this recording as he heard it in digital download form from Beulah. I have not heard that issue but correspondence on the Message Board prompted me to compare the HDTT download with my RCA Living Stereo SACD/CD hard copy.

I praised this recording in my survey of Das Lied von der Erde, calling it “something of a sleeper” and much of what I say there about the brilliance and detail of Reiner’s way with this music and the beauty of the singing is confirmed by DMcD’s observations. I quote from my survey, having no reason to change my response to its aesthetic qualities:

“The first thing that strikes you about this recording is the virtuosity of the orchestra and Reiner’s ability to promote various strands of instrumental lines in turn so that details are constantly emerging through the luscious depth of sound. The exultant horns, snarling trumpets and flickering flutes in the opening song make you sit up and listen, yet they do not overwhelm Richard Lewis’ voice. He manages to produce a surprising degree of heft for an essentially light and grainy tenor who specialised in Elgar, Mozart and Handel. He is both very expressive and sufficiently penetrating to negotiate the exceptionally demanding passages in these songs without sounding either strained or weedy – which cannot always be said for tenors in this killer music. He also succeeds in sounding both drunk and musical as Der Trunkene with some lovely fading diminuendi on a top A which suggest he is gently sliding to the floor…

…I postponed getting to know it, being already content with Kubelik, Klemperer, Tennstedt and Walter – but this is worthy to sit alongside them and sports possibly the best orchestral playing of all…

…In many ways, Maureen Forrester’s contralto is the closest in timbre and vibrancy to many people’s first and ideal exponent of this music: Kathleen Ferrier. She doesn’t quite have that beloved artist’s refulgence in the lower register but there is the same, merest hint of mortal tremulousness in her tone which can be so moving. Her melancholy restraint in Der Abschied is very effective, especially as she very carefully gauges how she gradually expands her voice over the great arcing span of half an hour of music until she opens up in the final, ecstatic hymn before the rapt repetition of “Ewig”. Her interpretation is not quite on the same level as that of Janet Baker who in all her versions achieves a kind of desolate, aching beauty that threatens to reduce Forrester’s account to mere generalised pathos, but Reiner’s accompaniment is so exquisitely detailed and shaded as to convince me that this is still a great performance.”

However, there are differences between the RCA and HDTT remasterings and again I quote from the findings I posted on the Message Board: “Both are very good, though for some reason the CD has a tubbier, rounder sound with the orchestra more forward – especially the horns – than the HDTT download which is neater, and maintains a slightly better balance between the voices and orchestra. The HDTT version is also set at a lower volume which reduces the ambient rustle and rumble which is more prominent in the RCA CD. On balance, I find the HDTT remastering preferable – more natural and easier to listen to, with a better equilibrium and no distractions from any extraneous noise.”

There is also a Dutton remastering which I have not heard but clearly anyone who loves this work should hear this recording in some form, and my own preference remains for this HDTT remastering.

Ralph Moore

Availability: High Definition Tape Transfers