Top Ear

Steinberg’s Propulsive Mahler 2

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Jeremy Lee writes

This “live studio” recording (whatever that means) for a radio broadcast dates from 1965 and as such is a relatively early recording in the massive Mahler 2nd discography (the booklet notes written by Peter Laki justifies its historical significance by the fact that this is one of the earliest recordings of the work by a conductor who had never worked with Mahler or seen him conduct).  At the time of recording William Steinberg, aged 66, was at the height of his powers, having conducted Aida at the Met with great success and in “great demand on both sides of the Atlantic”.  His conducting meanwhile had a reputation for being unsentimental, forceful and exciting, and his efforts here clearly upholds that reputation, demonstrating a gripping control over the orchestra in the outer movements, retaining some dry yet nuanced playing in the second movement, and a scherzo with all the grotesqueness you might want.  In the last movement, the off-stage effects are well done and well-captured, the chorus sounds wonderful and the organ impressively prominent.  Mostly though it’s the drive that makes Steinberg’s conducting here so appealing–his tempi, especially in the outer movements, are on the fast side and he never lets the power or tension slack.  In this sense, then, this performance bears a striking resemblance to Mehta’s recording with the Vienna Philharmonic of which I have reviewed earlier.

There are, of course, a few quibbles.  The orchestral playing isn’t the most subtle or disciplined, the very short (and soft) last note of the last movement may sound anticlimactic, and the contralto Anny Delorie almost ruins the Urlicht movement with hilarious memory issues (Der Mensch liegt in Grosster Pein!  Der Mensch liegt in Grosster Noth!) and an extra wide vibrato had it not been for Steinberg’s absolutely magical dynamic and ensemble control.  These problems notwithstanding, this is a great document of Steinberg’s artistry and should serve as an outstanding supplementary version to primary versions such as Bernstein, Klemperer, Solti or Mehta (though if you own the Mehta recording you won’t want this anyway–it’s really very similar).  Good vintage stereo sonics only adds to your listening pleasure, and kudos too to ICA Classics for releasing this noteworthy recording on CD for the first time.


  • Album name:  Mahler:  Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection”
  • Performers:  Stefania Woytowicz (soprano); Anny Delorie (contralto); William Steinberg (conductor); Kölner Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchester; Kölner Rundfunkchor
  • Label:  ICAC 5001
  • Sonics:  Stereo ADD
  • Total playing time:  79:38

Author: Top Ear

Musical hooligans.

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