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Mahler Symphonies Favorite Recordings - Page 162

post #2416 of 3714
Quote:
Originally Posted by bookdoctor
Hello everyone,

I'm off on a much-needed vacation for the next 3 weeks. I've loaded the iPod with my current favorite Mahlers (M2/Kubelik/Audite, M3/Kubelik/Audite, M5/Barbirolli, M7/Abbado), tons of Bach (my other great musical passion: the B Minor Mass never leaves my iPod), and a few audiobooks (complete Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, read by Adams).

I'll certainly be acquiring more Mahler while I'm away, since I'll be in Europe where it's easier to shop for this (and cheaper!). Thanks to all of you for your recommendations since I joined the thread; I've taken note of them for my shopping list.

So I'll see you in a few weeks. In the meantime, keep the wonderful conversation going, and I'll catch up when I return.
Have a great trip!
post #2417 of 3714
Quote:
Originally Posted by mbhaub
PS: If consistency is the vital element for a great Mahler orchestra, how in the world did Chicago, Vienna and New York ever make your list? Each made many mediocre Mahler recordings with different conductors. One only need hear Solti's 3, 4, 7, or 9. Vienna made many fine recordings, but their early work with Scherchen is hardly world-class, and several of Maazels are deadly dull. New York played like pigs in the 60s. Hard edged, strident -- hardly qualities one wants in Mahler. All three certainly made fine recordings, but they made their share of woofs, too. London has a much better track record. If you've never heard Cincinnatti, they're doing M9 next season. Go. Get some real Cincinnati Chili (Spaghetti) then head to the concert. I've been all over this country hearing our orchestras, and I promise you that some of the best music making and the highest quality orchestras are not the Big 5. Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, St. Louis are just stunning. As good as anything you'll hear in NY, Philly, Boston, Chicago or Detroit. And lower ticket prices, too.
Consistency depends more on the conductor than the band. A band can be technically excellent, but if the leadership is faulty, then the game is over before it starts. For example, as popular as some of his recordings are, no one will convince me that Sir Georg Solti had any business conducting Mahler. No matter what he conducts, he sounds like Georg Solti. Comparing his M8 with Kent Nagano's with the DSOB was an enlightening experience. Solti was too driven. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn't.

Under a great Mahlerian, or a conductor that gets a given score, some orchestras will just sparkle. Sometimes their shine covers up an inferior concept. With other bands, the conductor has to work to get his vision across. That's my prime criterion, misguided as it might be.
post #2418 of 3714
Quote:
Originally Posted by PSmith08
Frankly, and not to put too fine a point on it, Tennstedt was wrong.
All righty then. Guess there's no point in making any further comments here. See y'all later!

Mark
post #2419 of 3714
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mark from HFR
All righty then. Guess there's no point in making any further comments here. See y'all later!

Mark
Well, I'm always interested in what you have to say!
post #2420 of 3714
Mark: I, too, am always interested to read what you write, as your posts are always interesting, informed, and well-written. If you think Klaus Tennstedt had the ne plus ultra view of Mahler, that's fine, we can agree to disagree. That disagreement could prompt some good discussion.

Mark...come home! Mea culpa!
post #2421 of 3714
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by PSmith08
For example, as popular as some of his recordings are, no one will convince me that Sir Georg Solti had any business conducting Mahler. No matter what he conducts, he sounds like Georg Solti. Comparing his M8 with Kent Nagano's with the DSOB was an enlightening experience. Solti was too driven. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn't.
Ahhhhhhh........blasphemy to my ears, Sir Georg's Mahler work only grows in stature as I hear more and more different sets by all contenders. (not directly talking about M8 only)

That is a common rationale put forth by many reviewers (too driven) who love to bash Solti, yet all one needs to do to disprove such folly is to hear his LSO M1 with its delicate evokative sense of mystery and many other instances of deep sensitivity throughout his great Mahler CSO set and LSO Mahler CDs.

What sets Solti apart is the ability to combine this sensitivity/affinity with dramatic power and enery almost unmatched by any other, especially with CSO and brilliant brass section at thier peak, magnificent!

I am not a total Solt fan BTW, all 3 sets of Beethoven symphonies never really worked for instance. And I think his Brahms set is overrated.
post #2422 of 3714
Quote:
Originally Posted by DarkAngel
Ahhhhhhh........blasphemy to my ears, Sir Georg's Mahler work only grows in stature as I hear more and more different sets by all contenders. (not directly talking about M8 only)

That is a common rationale put forth by many reviewers (too driven) who love to bash Solti, yet all one needs to do to disprove such folly is to hear his LSO M1 with its delicate evokative sense of mystery and many other instances of deep sensitivity throughout his great Mahler CSO set and LSO Mahler CDs.

What sets Solti apart is the ability to combine this sensitivity/affinity with dramatic power and enery almost unmatched by any other, especially with CSO and brilliant brass section at thier peak, magnificent!

I am not a total Solt fan BTW, all 3 sets of Beethoven symphonies never really worked for instance. And I think his Brahms set is overrated.
As I said, sometimes drive works, and sometimes it doesn't. Using a slightly-OT example, Pierre Boulez is driven in his 1971 Parsifal, and I think that drive works. My problem with Solti, both in his Wagner and his Mahler, is that I see him willing to make the dramatic point before he makes the musical point. Those Mahler symphonies of his which I've heard are dramatic, no doubt, but there is only so much of that that Mahler can bear before it becomes a caricature. Not that Solti gets there, but he comes close. So does Bernstein at times. Barbirolli isn't blameless either.

See, I am an equal-opportunity curmudgeon.
post #2423 of 3714
Masolino's post of a couple pages back offers an excerpt of an interview with Sir Charles Mackerras. It neatly explains that there was no definitive Mahler, even when Mahler himself was conducting!

There is always going to be tension between performing exactly what the score says and exploring it and changing it. Surely no one wants a robot conducting robot players, so it ultimately comes down to how much license do you think is appropriate to grant conductors.
post #2424 of 3714
Quote:
Originally Posted by Origen
Masolino's post of a couple pages back offers an excerpt of an interview with Sir Charles Mackerras. It neatly explains that there was no definitive Mahler, even when Mahler himself was conducting!

There is always going to be tension between performing exactly what the score says and exploring it and changing it. Surely no one wants a robot conducting robot players, so it ultimately comes down to how much license do you think is appropriate to grant conductors.
I agree 110%, insofar as that's possible; however, there isn't much that's fun to talk about otherwise.
post #2425 of 3714
Quote:
Originally Posted by PSmith08
Mark: I, too, am always interested to read what you write, as your posts are always interesting, informed, and well-written. If you think Klaus Tennstedt had the ne plus ultra view of Mahler, that's fine, we can agree to disagree. That disagreement could prompt some good discussion.

Mark...come home! Mea culpa!
It's one thing to disagree and then to discuss. It's quite another to issue blanket statements that allow for no discussion room. Don't worry, Patrick, it's not just you. It's all of us, and my little fit of pique has been building up for a while due to many recent sparring matches here at Head Fi (some things never change...)

I want to be here to learn, as there is so much to learn from other people's points of view. Unfortunately, it's all too easy to slip into pugnacious mode where we just pound each other without ever trying to understand what the other person means. (And I have caught myself doing this lately, too, so I'm as guilty as anyone.) But, please, let's try to continue this discussion one more time.

Regarding Tennstedt's view, consider this: When I first heard it years ago, I too thought that it was wrong-- even embarrassingly wrong. But the thought nagged me, and I kept coming back to it in my thoughts. And I kept listening to various performances, particularly Tennstedt's, trying to grasp what on earth he meant. Whatever vagaries one might dismiss about a conductor who was such a maverick (and neurotic) one thing that can't be dismissed is his sincerity. And listening to his performances, there is a basic difference in the sound-world they inhabit. I ultimately think it narrows down to two main ideas:

1) Overly transparent playing removes the flesh of Mahler's symphonies, leaving an emaciated, bony creature without much voluptuousness. This is also related to the Furtwanglerian concept of "precise imprecision". Conductors like Tennstedt or Furtwangler (or-- I suspect-- Mahler himself) had a very precise idea of the atmosphere they wanted in music, and sometimes that atmosphere precluded precise sharp edges. They wanted more shading, more uncertainty, more sonic grime... in other words, not spic-n-span clean playing. (And, yes, Bunny, I am saying that I don't think Mahler wanted the ultimate in accuracy... at least not of the mechanical value expressed by musical notation. I think he wanted the ultimate in human response, something that cannot be expressed by notation at all.) That very imprecision and uncertainty is a huge psychological factor in the interaction of conductor and orchestra. Many conductors rehearse ad nauseum until every last inflection is planned in advance, but the greatest know that such an approach takes so much doubt and mystery out of the performance process that it can leave the orchestra too comfortable. Some imprecision and uncertainty keeps the players alert and forces them to follow the conductor closely. I think Tennstedt's comment has something to do with this.

2) Prettiness is not necessarily equal to beauty. The problem Tennstedt saw with pretty precision is that it can preclude a greater dramatic arsenal of playing techniques. After all, look at the phrasing and tempo of the trumpet tune in the trio of the M9 third movement, Burkleske. It can, and usually is, merely played as a quiet lyrical tune providing contrast from the chaos of the main movement. Tennstedt recognizes, however, that its musical function is more significant than that. The tune also embodies the main motif of the finale's main theme. So he gives it extra "significance" by destabilizing the tempo and has the player play the notes slightly unevenly, so that instead of merely sounding like a pretty lyrical interlude it now sounds like a shaken, shell-shocked attempt at pretty lyricism. Or note the recent recording of M1 by Benjamin Zander. He tried to get the first chair bassist of the Philharmonia to play the opening solo of the third movement in a "grotesque" manner, slightly out of tune and slightly out of tempo. The player refused and played it very prettily indeed. Thus, a highly inflected, rather bizarre expression was completely lost and replaced by a very accurate and very wrong precision. The player can (and has) defended himself by pointing out that he played the score as written. But that score is merely an attempt Mahler made at expressing a dramatic vision so extreme that it frequently stretches beyond the expressive capabilities of a notation system that is inherited from a day when personal inflection was expected to be applied liberally to the basic printed notes.

I think, in sum, that what Tennstedt was getting after was that great musical performance doesn't end with accurate playing of the score. It merely begins there. The artistic demands of the pieces require occasional distortion of normal playing in order to make the emotional points that Mahler was after, thus creating works that aren't always pretty, but are still always beautiful. If you disagree with that and have an entirely other approach to the art of music (which you may well have), please explain it to me in a way that I can enter into your world, even if only briefly. Just please-- I beg of you, and all of us here!-- don't dismiss anyone's hard-won insights with a curt remark that they are wrong.

Mark
post #2426 of 3714
Hi Mark,

Good to see you back! Steam blowing out of the ears is actually a form of dress around Headfi.

Okay, that's a long post to digest, but here's my take:

1. I don't know precisely what Tennstedt meant when he said dirty, I'll have to bow to your greater knowledge there. However, I usually say that I prefer my Mahler crunchy rather than smooth and creamy, so maybe we're not that far apart.

2. Vis-a-vis transparency of orchestral sound, I really have to agree completely! It's the thin sounding orchestras with their emphasis on transparency that I have come to dislike most when listening to Mahler. While a certain amount of transparency is necessary so that the "colors" gleam, too much is terrible which is why I have such problems with Rattle.

3. To much precision also kills it as far as I'm concerned as well. That's one of the problems I have with Szell's Mahler. It's so cold and precise as to be like a block of marble rather than a living and breathing entity. You can look at the beauty, but it doesn't speak.

4. Too pretty is a good description of some of MTT's work, and one of the reason's he's not completely successful, too! It's also the reason that his live performances are so great -- that extra uncertainty just enlivens it so much. It's too bad that his recordings are pastiches of performances rather than just one excellent peformance with the occasional flaw.

Now a few other little points: First, when Mahler calls something a Burleske, I think it should be taken literally! A burlesque is not a lyrical interlude; it is a parody: a sarcastic, mocking, undignified copy of something else. As far as I know, the German word Burleske does not differ in meaning from the French and English words (and no, it's not a tune to strip by, although some of the music for stripping is played in a burlesque manner. ) Anyway, if someone is changing a burlesque in to a sweetly lyrical interlude then they are really missing the point!

Finally, it's very interesting that Zander wanted his bassist to play the opening solo off key and out of tempo, but maybe the direction was not really the right one? Perhaps if he had asked for something a little differently he might have gotten a result that he was happier with and a bassist more willing to experiment. As it stands, if he really wanted that solo played in a particular way, he could have stood up and gone down the ranks until he found someone who could or would play it that way. It's a bit strange to think that with something that is so important (and an opening really sets the tone for the whole movement), the conductor couldn't prevail by force of personality. That's an incredibly strange thing to admit, and I will admit that I am not the admirer of Zander's complete body of work that you are. He may have known exactly what he wanted from the performance, but sometimes he comes close but still misses, as with this M1.
post #2427 of 3714
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bunnyears
2. Vis-a-vis transparency of orchestral sound, I really have to agree completely! It's the thin sounding orchestras with their emphasis on transparency that I have come to dislike most when listening to Mahler. While a certain amount of transparency is necessary so that the "colors" gleam, too much is terrible which is why I have such problems with Rattle.

Sometimes I think it's really difficult to discuss this aspect of a recording. Because it's so inherent in the process.. Meaning... a recording can ruin the conductor's view of "transparency" if the recording technique doesn't match up with the conductor's philosophy.. I know this wouldn't have been a problem with someone like, say, Karajan, because he was in total control of the recorded output, but that can't always be the case can it?

What Mark said about Tennstedt totally matches what I hear on his 80's EMI recordings. They aren't as clean and anti-septic as, say, Telarc's were back then. But what would a Tennstedt Mahler 6th have sounded like if Telarc had recorded it instead of EMI? I would have sounded very different and would have cast a very different shadow over it. Sure, the phrasings and tempos would have been the same. But something like "transparency" can be affected, at least as far as the final recorded output, by many things: hall, mics, mic placement, diffusors, cables (if you believe in that kind of thing), mixing board, tracking, recording method.. And the instruments *sound* different.. Even things like the impact of a bass drum or the air surrounding a flute changes from label to label, regardless of the orchestra or conductor. I've heard it. You all know about the "Telarc bass drum" - but it goes way beyond that! Imagine Slatkin's Mahler 2nd recorded by DG! Eeek! It would have come across totally different.

So, I guess my point is.. unless the conductor is in complete control of the entire recording process, from performance to final mastering, how can we know if the "transparency" is the result of the conductor's influence or any of the other factors that I outlined above?

-jar
post #2428 of 3714
*pokes head out of foxhole holding helmet firmly to head*

I've started diving into the Bertini set, and I like what I am hearing. He's not an conductor that pushes Mahler to the extreme, but I still enjoy it quite a bit. I guess in the end I have trouble finding huge faults with any Mahler conductor, some I like more than others.

*pulls head back down before crossfire hits him in the face*
post #2429 of 3714
Hi Jar,

I think that transparency is not a function of engineering except when the engineering "loses" the quality. I'm sure that balancing, mike placement, etc. does affect the way the recording sounds (harsher or smoother, clear or muffled, balanced or unbalanced, recessed or not recessed, etc), but it cannot give you those "inner voices" if the conductor hasn't stressed them and made them more apparent in the performance. And, conversely, if transparency were only something that resulted from mike placement and balance and wiring, then how would anyone be able to discern it at a live performance?

My comments about transparency and thin orchestral tone really have nothing to do with the recording process as I was thinking of my experiences at live concerts. Rattle's orchestras sound thin no matter where you hear them. His preferred sound is not at all lush.

As for how Tennstedt would have sounded had he been recorded by Telarc, I tend to think he would have sounded as good or even better. Telarc was very good at getting a sound that was as close as possible to "life," whereas EMI often had some strange ideas about mike placement and balances. So did Decca and DGG (the champion of the supersized piano) for that matter. I think what you are thinking of is the generally "bright" sonic quality of some Telarc recordings as compared to others. I don't for instance find the sound of the Slatkin M2 overly bright, but you may. Thus, I don't think that Tennstedt's sound was dependent on EMI's process to produce that "dirty" quality. Who knows, maybe Telarc might have made that dirt sound more realistic -- ie, more defined or "closer" to how it sounded in the concert hall, but I don't think it would or could have "cleaned up" the performance.
post #2430 of 3714
I think that transparency is not a function of engineering except when the engineering "loses" the quality. I'm sure that balancing, mike placement, etc. does affect the way the recording sounds (harsher or smoother, clear or muffled, balanced or unbalanced, recessed or not recessed, etc), but it cannot give you those "inner voices" if the conductor hasn't stressed them and made them more apparent in the performance. And, conversely, if transparency were only something that resulted from mike placement and balance and wiring, then how would anyone be able to discern it at a live performance?

My comments about transparency and thin orchestral tone really have nothing to do with the recording process as I was thinking of my experiences at live concerts. Rattle's orchestras sound thin no matter where you hear them. His preferred sound is not at all lush.


Did you ever have an experience when you listened to a familiar recording on a new piece of equipment and were suddenly hearing things you hadn't heard before?

To me, it's too much of a grey area to say 100% for sure that everything between the initial performance and your ears doesn't effect this "transparency" we're talking about.

Of course, there's a chance that at a fundamental level we're still talking about different aspects..

It's just that I've read thousands of reviews over the years, and reviewer after reviewer will say this recording or that amp/cable/cd player/speaker sounds more "transparent" - I think it's this quality, this ability to see all the way through to what was happening in the hall, that's more what I'm getting at.

But how can we ever be sure that what we're getting is the conductor's ultimate vision? Why the heck would people do such insane things as buy progressively more and more expensive equipment until they're spending more than they would on a new car? Several new cars?

This question goes to the basics of being a music fan AND an audiophile.

Or do we get the same view of Horenstein's Mahler 1st on a $50 JCPenny record player as we could on a Music Hall MMF-9 w/ Grado Reference, Conrad Johnson tubes and a pair of Klipschorns (hehe that would be fun).. if this didn't bring us closer to what happened in the hall at the time of recording, then why bother spending all that money?

I guess what I'm saying is.. maybe we need to think twice before putting everything on the conductor as far as the subject of transparency goes.. I don't see how we can separate recording process and/or listening equipement from the discussion when considering any interpretation..

-jar
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