MAHLER: Symphonies Nos 3, 6 and 10 (first and third movements only)

Hilde Rossl-Majdan (contralto), Vienna Boys' Choir,

Vienna State Opera Chorus, Vienna SO/ Charles Adler

(recorded: 1951-2)

Conifer 75605 51279 2 (three CDs)

Rough-cut slices of Mahlerian history, gritty, uncompromising and - in some respects at least - more gripping, more profoundly authentic, than many of the Mahler performances you'll hear nowadays. London-born Charles Adler assisted Mahler at the premiere of his Eighth Symphony in Munich; he also conducted for Diaghilev, organised his own publishing house (rolling Ives and Cowell off the presses when few others dared), landed penniless in New York and co-founded the record company, the Society of Participating Artists (or SPA), that made these premiere recordings.

Vintage Brits may remember them from ancient "cheap LP" reissues, though only No 3 has made it onto CD before. Some will scoff at the scuffs, the approximate playing, the occasional lapses in ensemble and the variable - though by no means bad - sound quality. And yet I challenge any reader to locate a more humbling performance of the Third Symphony's primeval first movement, dark, brooding music, formidably powerful and keenly responsive to Adler's long-breathed phrasing. The Sixth is grim and unhurried, with the Neanderthal Scherzo and idyllic Andante (an eloquent reading) played in reverse order - an option that Mahler himself sometimes favoured. Again, there's the odd executive crack or splinter, but far better rugged Mahler played with conviction than hammy exaggeration or brainless emotional overkill. A real tonic, much enhanced by exemplary, fact-filled documentation.

Rob Cowan