Preiser 90678 mono, 53:41 (Distrib. Albany) ***:
A performance to compete, emotionally, with the famed Patzak/Ferrier/Walter inscription of Mahler’s Eastern meditation on love, beauty, and mortality, this 1951 reading led by Otto Klemperer (1885-1973) has great poignancy and color. I find rather a harsh, whiny tinge to Cavelti’s voice, making it hard for me to imagine why several major conductors – Bruno Walter besides Otto Klemperer – chose her for important works like the Brahms Requiem. During Klemperer’s tenure with Vox Records in the 1950s, he had not succumbed to the magisterial, if sometimes moribund, slowness of tempo that would plague his readings ten years hence.
The participation of tenor Anton Dermota (1910-1989), noted for his Mozart roles, makes this vocal symphony lyrically dramatic and lithe, certainly a stirring complement to Klemperer’s later reading with Fritz Wunderlich. The opening Drinking Song of Earth’s Woe, with its philosophical detachment met head on by torrential, hysterical reactions in the orchestra, finds Dermota’s perfection intonation and diction capturing the paradoxical interplay of life and death. How ephemeral is Youth in the metaphor of garden of porcelain. Klemperer makes the sparks fly around Cavelti’s dusky voice in the meditation Of Beauty – shades of Kurt Weill. Bursting horns and sliding strings accompany Dermota for the Drunken Man in Spring, the intoxication of Pan, courtesy of that same violin which intones of Death in the G Major Symphony. The stately lament, Der Abschied, the deep bass pedal and the high flute, call forth some yearning from Cavelti, whose sustaining tone is strong but not sweet – edgy and strained. The orchestral patina, however, remains flexible and pointed, not dragging; the winds, horns, and harps urge the sense of inevitability so lamented in the strings. According to Mahler, we are condemned to say goodbye; we can only choose its forms. This one is redolent with Eastern scents and angular colors, with Klemperer’s occasional, albeit athletic, deconstruction of the singing line to expose the forward-looking harmony which inspired Schoenberg and Berg. If Toscanini had been partial to Mahler’s music, this is a good approximation of how he might have rendered this exotic and tragic score.
— Gary Lemco