Archipel ARPCD 0344, 78:19 (Distrib. Qualiton) *****:
Having studied with Ferruccio Busoni, the Greek conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos (1896-1960) came to revere the music of Mahler, imbibing a more plastic, even ferocious tradition than the Viennese, sentimental version of Mahler’s music espoused by Mitropoulos’ colleague at the New York Philharmonic, Bruno Walter. When, with Walter, only Oskar Fried, Otto Klemperer, Jascha Horenstein, Willem Mengelberg, and F. Charles Adler were active Mahler disciples, Mitropoulos led performances of the Mahler cycle–excepting the Second, Fourth, and Seventh–in Minneapolis and New York and later Vienna. This led directly to the 1960s revival championed by Leonard Bernstein. Mahler’s amalgam of Viennese, Schubertian sentiment and folk ethos combined with his savage marches and vulgar street tunes somehow appealed to Mitropoulos’ innate love of labyrinthine scores and color tangles.
Whatever compression and sonic harshness this Archipel CD projects, the music as shaped by Mitropoulos is absolutely riveting, as compelling and volcanic as the day it was inscribed, 15 April 1956, in concert at Carnegie Hall. The wind, brass, and horn choirs of the Philharmonic, sometimes known for the willful errors contrived by James Chambers and James Vacchiano, are in solid form, ringing out hosannas and visions of apocalypse, in this, the most openly pantheistic of the Mahler symphonies. If ever we can came claim to be “in the throes” of a surging Mahler performance, this is one. The third movement, with its mysticism and its parody of La Folia, captures the Mitropoulos fever precisely. Wicked trumpet work. An avid mountain climber, Mitropoulos loved high places, including those same Dolomites which entranced the composer. From the heights we have Nietzsche’s paean to Mankind from Zarathustra, courtesy of the throaty Beatrice Krebs (in English) and horns and oboe. “The world is deep.” Human innocence fuses with ontic innocence in the fifth movement, a forecast of the heavenly slaughter of the G Major Symphony. Who but Mitropoulos (and Furtwaengler) can urge such tragic intensity from the string section of an orchestra? The last movement, in many ways an orchestral transposition of Beethoven’s F Major Quartet, Op. 135, finds a kindred spirit in Mitropoulos, who orchestrated Beethoven’s Op. 131 himself. This yearning movement alone could serve as a memorial to Mitropoulos, who was rehearsing this mighty work when he collapsed in Milan in November 1960. To date, the best Mahler I have heard in 2006.
— Gary Lemco