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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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