Mahler Symphonies

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Mahler Symphonies

I was wondering which Mahler recordings people favour in honour of the great composer's 150 birthday last week and all.  I wouldn't mind extending my collection further and would welcome some recommendations - perhaps especially those unfamiliar gems.  My favourites are:

No. 1: Sinopoli (DG)

No. 2: Mehta (DECCA)

No. 3: Horenstein (Unicorn)

No. 4: Sinopoli (Profil)

No. 5: Rattle (EMI)

No. 6: Abbado (DG)

No. 7: Solti (DECCA)

No. 8: Boulez

No. 9: Rattle BPO (EMI)

Leid Von Der Erde: Horenstein (BBC)

RE: Mahler Symphonies

What no Bernstein??!! For me, either of his recordings of the 6th are incomparable and the 5th is close behind. Still haven't heard anything better than the Walter 2nd. The Chailly cycle divides opinions, and I'm definitely a fan although the recordings aren't quite the be-all-and-end-all that some people claim. You can pick up the whole box at a ridiculous price if you look around (I paid under $40), otherwise I'd say the 9th is probably the stand-out.

RE: Mahler Symphonies

For me it would be:

1: Chailly (Decca)

2: Abbado in Lucerne (DG) (even more moving on DVD)

3: Chailly (Decca) the Concertgebouw really is the finest Mahler orchestra

4: Norrington (Haenssler) - the slow movement is something very special

5: Chailly (Decca) the sound is amazing - one of the best recordings I've ever heard

6: Jansons (RCO Live)

7: Chailly (Decca)

8: Bernstein (Sony) &/or Rattle (EMI) at least - would probably choose at least 2 more

9: Rattle Berlin (EMI) (but Norrington comes a close tied 2nd with Chailly)

10: Rattle (EMI)

Das Lied: Boulez (DG)

Perhaps the greatest musical experience of my life was hearing Rattle and the Berliners in the 2nd at the Canary Islands Music Festival in 2007.  Would love to hear a new recording of his.

RE: Mahler Symphonies

Re. the Chailly Mahler cycle recordings: I first listened to them through my KEF 104s and they sounded amazing - my Quad esl 63s were in dock at the time, a situation familiar to many esl63 owners. Once I got the Quads running again and re-ran the Chailly cycle, it was a different story. Superb soundstage, tremendous depth, excellent bass, precise detail BUT .......... the Achilles heel of so many digital recordings - glassy and restricted violin tone,  the way most DG recordings were in the 80s. So if you buy the claim that Quad electrostatics give the most accurate reproduction of what's on the disc (and I do) you won't necessarily join in the general applause for Decca's recording engineers. That doesn't detract from the performances except perhaps for #2, where I find the recording balance so odd through the first 3 movements that Chailly's attention to instrumental balance and Mahler's markings doesn't come through and the whole thing falls rather flat.

RE: Mahler Symphonies

I've given the Urmana/Schade/Boulez DG Das Lied von der Erde a couple times as a gift.  I think it's the best recording of the work in the digital era.  From the analog era, I'd go with the Ludwig/Wunderlich/Klemperer EMI recording, though the Hodgson/Mitchinson/Horenstein BBC Classics recording is brilliant, and Walter's third recording with Miller and Haefliger on Sony is terribly underrated.

If I may be perverse, I'll say that the very worst recording I've ever heard of Das Lied (and of Mahler's music, in general) is Sir Colin Davis' 1981 LSO account with Jessye Norman and Jon Vickers.  I love Norman's Erwartung and Four Last Songs, but she's awful in Das Lied -- self-indulgent and over-the-top.  Vickers is well past his prime.  The tenor songs are the shortest on disc I've ever heard.  Davis is just trying to get it over with as quickly as possible for Vickers.  It's quite sad.

RE: Mahler Symphonies

Thank you for all your comments.  I shall certainly explore the Chailly.  It's interesting that Kubelik and Solti get no mention.  I suspect that as with everything Mahler tastes change over time.  I must say I find the Bernstein a bit much but then I am relatively new to Mahler and there is a more competitive field than in the 60s when he was probably the best modern interpreter.  

RE: Mahler Symphonies

cjdeldotto - thanks for the Boulez tip. I'd never have considered him as a Mahler interpreter but you're not the first who's recommended his Das Lied very highly. I'll have to check it out.

sc1234 - I use a Pioneer PD 65 through a Quad 34 and 405. My room is quite bright but the Pioneer has a reputation of delivering a sweet and understated sound and I apply a slight treble cut anyway. So I have to blame recording engineers for edgy violins. Those of us old enough to recall when cds first appeared will remember many screechy recordings. It took a while for engineers to get it right, and some still haven't.

Martin_opera, your reaction to Bernstein isn't unusual. Of all Mahler's symphonies I believe the 6th suits his let-it-all-hand-out style. He, Walter and Horenstein set a sort of interpretive tone for Mahler recordings and it wasn't until I heard Chailly that I realized most conductors since them have taken those early recordings as a starting point. Chailly on the other hand seems to start right from scratch, from the score, and I find the results revelatory. To enjoy them though, I had to clear my mind of decades of preconceptions nurtured by that Mahler tradition.

Worst Mahler recording? By a mile, the Rattle Mahler 2nd, one of the worst recordings of any work I've ever heard. I cannot listen to it for more than 5 minutes without feeling my blood pressure rocket. All self-indulgence, underlining and wilful distortion. Far more Rattle than Mahler. But for many people it's the bee's knees. Vive la difference!

RE: Mahler Symphonies

Hi martin_opera,

You really opened a can of worms here, as you can see. To coin a phrase, there's many ways to skin a cat - not that I'm recommending that of course. I am not really a great lover of Mahler. Whenever I listen to his music I find myself growing impatient. I guess I may not be alone here. So you will realise that recordings that ponder too long or beatify his work are not really to my taste. You may therefore gather that I prefer Barbirolli's recordings of Symphony's 5 & 9, Solti's 8 and Bernstein's No 1. I have a high regard for George Szell's No 4 and Tennsted's Lied von der Erde but by far my favourite recording of what I consider to be Mahler's finest symphony is Leonard Slatkin's version on Telarc. I know for many Mahler lovers this would be regarded as an also-ran but the dynamics and range of the recording work for me and send shingles down my spine whenever I hear it. Rattle's recording was contemporaneous with this but struck me as too calculated. Tilson Thomas and Boulez don't do it for me - too slow. Chailly and Haitink had the most fabulous orchestra to work with. They make a beautiful sound but seem to lack the requisite ultimate panache. I have to really be in the mood for Mahler and when I am I don't want him soft grained at all. Pace Abbado too.

RE: Mahler Symphonies

I agree with tagalie about the Rattle Mahler 2 recording which to me
totally lacks depth. Years ago I heard Klemperer conduct this symphony
live and his straighforward magisterial approach has been my model for
how this music should be performed. I have also heard live performances
by Haitink of the first, second and ninth  which to me were similar in
stature. I also like Boulez in Mahler. All three conductors avoid the
emotional indulgence and superficial sentimentality one hears in say
Bernstein and just play the music as written.

RE: Mahler Symphonies

Symphony No. 1--Kubelik

Symphony No. 2--Walter

Symphony No. 3--Chailly

Symphony No. 4--Maazel

Symphony No. 5--Barshai

Symphony No. 6--Bernstein (DG)

Symphony No. 7--Levine

Symphony No. 8--Solti

Symphony No. 9--Gielen

Symphony No. 10--Rattle (Berlin)

mgh1942

RE: Mahler Symphonies

It's worth noting re: Das Lied that Osmo Vänskä's mid-1990s BIS recording of the Schoenberg/Riehn chamber arrangement is drop-dead gorgeous, especially with Jorma Silvasti and Monica Groop singing.

On a more general note, I see that no one has mentioned Gergiev's cycle-in-progress.  I haven't actually heard any of those discs myself and I know that the reviews have been mixed, but I'd be interested in reading what the people on this board have to say about them.

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