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On our podcasting channel, we’ve been featuring past (and new) shares of Gustav Mahler’s symphonies. Today’s Vinyl’s Revenge shares a re-issue of Mahler’s Ninth symphony, featuring Bruno Walter and the “Columbia Symphony Orchestra”.

First, let’s establish the orchestra. According to data I gathered, this performance was recorded 26th Jan. 1961 at the American Legion Hall in Hollywood. Thus, this is a California-based incarnation of the Columbia Symphony – probably using the same musicians Stravinsky would use locally for his legendary 80th birthday recordings for the same record label. I’d expect many were members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and local movie studio contract musicians.

As we know from music history, Mahler’s Ninth is his last “complete” symphony (that is, with full orchestration) and was never performed in Mahler’s lifetime; Walter, Mahler’s longtime assistant and colleague to whom the work is dedicated, conducted its first performance on 26 June 1912, at the Vienna Festival.
Although the symphony follows the usual four-movement form, it is unusual in that the first and last are slow rather than fast. As is often the case with Mahler, one of the middle movements is a ländler. Though the work is often described as being in the key of D major, the tonal scheme of the symphony as a whole is progressive; while the opening movement is in D major, the finale is in D-flat major. As is the case with his latter symphonies, the work not only requires a large orchestra (including clarinets in A, B-Flat and E-Flat, two harps, and a large array of percussion instruments), it lasts well over an hour.

Walter’s discography features at least two recordings of the Ninth – a 1938 concert performance with the Vienna Philharmonic and this 1962 studio recording. There may well be other live recorded performances along the way too.

As a reviewer says, Mahler’s ninth is a bit like Hamlet - there is vast room for varying interpretations. Bruno Walter's stereo recording is indispensable for a clear view of the non-neurotic approach to the work.

The recording has been released numerous times – the one in my own collection is part of the Odyssey “budget priced” re-issue series – and more recently on Sony's complete Walter edition. This is a superlative release that belongs in the collection of any and all Mahler enthusiasts; the sound of the original was astonishing in its day, and still is.

Happy listening!



Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Symphony no. 9 in D Major (1908- 09)
Columbia Symphony Orchestra
Bruno Walter, conducting
Recorded 26th Jan. 1961; American Legion Hall, Hollywood, California
Odyssey – Y2 30308
Format: 2 x Vinyl, LP, Album, Reissue, Stereo (1971)
Discogs - Mahler, Columbia Symphony Orchestra, Bruno Walter - Symphony No. 9

 

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That Odyssey LP release was my first 9th. Fine as it is, it's unfortunate that the orchestra was a pick-up group with a smaller string section than the norm. There's nothing wrong with the playing; obviously they hired top-tier players who could put the recording down without too much rehearsal. It's just too bad that they didn't use the great full-sized orchestras that Columbia was recording with at the time: New York, Cleveland, Philadelphia. When I was in college there was a fine classical music summer festival and there were performers who were the regulars; one lady, a violinist, made all of those LA-based recordings with Walter. She was a fascinating fount of stories about the Hollywood musicians she knew: Walter, Heifetz, Stravinsky, Rachmaninoff, Alma Mahler, Klemperer and others. Of course I was too young, arrogant and stupid too realize what a treasure she was. Every time I listen to any of those Walter recordings I think of Eudice. I wonder if she realized she was part of music history?
 

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Yes, Columbia Records: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Columbia_Symphony_Orchestra

My understanding is that it was easier to put together a group of musicians for the purpose of making in-house recordings, rather than worry about conflicting recording contracts and fee schedules for all parties involved. Many of the Columbia Symphony musicians were from the Los Angeles Philharmonic, but it was simpler from a copyright standpoint to record them as the Columbia Symphony Orchestra. Also the other orchestras mbhaub mentioned with Columbia contracts did not include the LA Philharmonic, and Columbia needed a West Coast orchestra for Bruno Walter, among other reasons.
 
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