Skip to content

Gustav Mahler

Boult conducts Mahler Symphony No 5

1947. BBC Maida Vale Studios, London
Composer Gustav Mahler
Conductor Sir Adrian Boult
Ensemble BBC Symphony Orchestra
Genre Symphonic concert

These live broadcasts of Mahler symphonies by Sir Adrian Boult are his only known recorded performances of the works. Boult’s legacy of commercial recordings of Mahler is slim – only a single symphony (the First, for Everest), Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen in three versions (Thebom, Flagstad and Ludwig), and Kindertotenlieder (again with Flagstad). A Testament CD release from 2008 added the Third Symphony in a broadcast from the same series as the Fifth, Seventh and Eighth featured here.

Between November, 1947 and February, 1948, the BBC presented an unusual Mahler symphony cycle, combining commercial recordings of the few symphonies which were then available on disc with concert performances of works which had yet to appear on record. Starting with a live First Symphony featuring Bruno Walter conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra, issued recordings of the Second (Ormandy/Minneapolis), Fourth and Ninth (Walter in New York and Vienna) were interspersed with live broadcasts of the Third, Fifth, Seventh and Eighth led by Boult (Walter’s February, 1947 New York studio recording of the Fifth having not yet been released). Boult might have led the cycle’s performance of the Sixth as well, had the BBC not opted to pick up a German broadcast under Schmidt-Isserstedt instead.

Since the BBC did not make archival recordings of these broadcasts, they might have remained the stuff of legend, had it not been for the efforts of an enterprising home recordist. Edward Agate, a musicologist and translator of opera libretti, took down all of the live performances from this series, and much else, using a two-cutter setup to enable continuous recording (although, in practice, occasional small gaps remained). After his death, over 200 78 rpm acetate discs from his collection wound up in a shop in Manchester, where music writer, performer and documentary producer Jon Tolansky happened upon them by chance in 1981. He purchased the lot and ultimately donated them to the organisation that was to become Music Preserved.

The original recordings ran between four and five minutes per side, sometimes with gaps of up to several seconds between the sides. The frequency range was not wide, with musical information present only up to about 5 kHz; but noise was plentiful, particularly at the ends of sides, with pervasive clicks, pops and swish, along with occasional disc damage. Digital editing using the latest iZotope RX tools, including pitch stabilisation, has ameliorated the problems to some degree, allowing the performances to be heard finally in something which has, hopefully, a degree of body and detail belying their AM radio/home-recorded acetate origins.

Some small patches of missing music were interpolated into the transfers, primarily by using later live performances from other conductors and digitally “ageing” the sound in order to make a seamless fit (e.g. the opening seconds of the fourth movement of the Seventh Symphony).

Mark Obert-Thorn

Gustav Mahler (1860 – 1911)

Symphony No 5 in C-sharp minor

Part I
1.  Trauermarsch. In gemessenem Schritt. Streng. Wie ein Kondukt
2.  Stürmisch bewegt. Mit grösster Vehemenz

Part II
3. Scherzo. Kräftig, nicht zu schnell

Part III
4.  Adagietto. Sehr langsam
5.  Rondo – Finale. Allegro

Broadcast of 20 December 1947 from BBC Maida Vale Studio No. 1, London

This recording is from the collection of Jon Tolansky.

Digital remastering by Mark Obert-Thorn.

The recording features on Pristine Classical’s CD album of Boult conducting Mahler’s symphonies 5, 7 and 8.  Details on

We are very grateful to Pristine Classical and to Mark Obert-Thorn for allowing us to use their material.

Browse the collection

Music Preserved offers you the choice of listening to many of the rare, historically and artistically interesting recordings in its collection.