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15. Januar 2021

Musical treasures | Mahler 1 / Rattle / CBSO

von Matthew Studdert-Kennedy

The Philharmonie team presents its musical treasures.

Matthew Studdert-Kennedy Head of the Artistic Planning Division
Simon Rattle / City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Gustav Mahler: Symphony No.1, Blumine. EMI Records, 1992.

«In the early 1990s ‹live recording› orchestras became the new thing. Record producers started to patch together the best from two or three concert performances of a symphonic work that was then released as a ‹live CD›. This was happening, unknown to me then, in the newly opened Symphony Hall Birmingham when I was in my early teenage years and my father and I had a subscription to the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. 

On a cold December day in 1991 my school flute teacher Julie Schroeder, who was married to a bassoonist in the orchestra, told me the CBSO and Simon Rattle had had to hastily organise an extra concert with Mahler Symphony N° 1 because there had been problems recording the earlier performances.  They were looking for an audience – any audience they could get. I had heard Mahler with Rattle before (already a famous combination in my adolescent world) but never N° 1 So I went home to persuade my parents that there was no homework that couldn’t wait and to cadge a lift into town in the dark. 

Hastily organised maybe but it turned out the orchestra had already been performing the piece around the English shires and this was the last chance to get it in the can. Hastily organised maybe but it also happened that the extraordinary Lynn Harrell was in town to play the Walton Cello Concerto in the first half.  At the beginning of the second half the orchestra’s Concerts Manager who was a large man with a big character and an unforgettable name, Beresford King-Smith, walked onto the stage. He explained to the select audience that we were about to record Mahler 1 together and that there would be plenty of moments in the piece when we could cough or make as much as noise as we liked but during the first fifteen minutes or so, which contain so much incredibly quiet music, we were not to make a squeak. 

So that was it, pinned to my chair, breathless in front of the unfolding universe of Mahler’s First Symphony and an orchestra playing like their lives depended on it. I loved every minute…well worth skipping the homework.»