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Mahler Symphonies Favorite Recordings - Page 163

post #2431 of 3714
I finally got around to reading the new Gramophone which showed up in the mail last week. There's a rave review of the Bertini by Jed Distler.

M
post #2432 of 3714
Quote:
Originally Posted by Masonjar
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
Well, I think you have confused what I was saying, probably because the language used to describe some qualities of audiophile equipment is the same as that describing the qualities of orchestral sound. Also, to be perfectly fair, the sound of the orchestra is determined by the director of the orchestra who is usually the chief conductor.

Transparency in an orchestra really doesn't depend on any recording equipment because you aren't listening to a recording or describing a recording. Transparency in an orchestra or any ensemble describes how easily the various parts of the ensemble can be discerned. For example in certain orchestras the strings are so heavy that you can hardly hear what the winds are doing when they are playing together. That's more of the sound of the WP compared to the BP nowadays. There are so many ways an orchestra can sound: stringy, windy, brassy, etc. The ability to hear the individual parts and how they blend into the whole is described as the transparency of the ensemble. Obviously, a leaner orchestra, or one where the where the sections (winds, reeds, strings, horns, etc) are given closer to equal prominance so that each individual part can be heard more easily. The supporting sections are the "inner voices" of the orchestra, and believe me, if those inner voices aren't easily discerned, no amount of recording wizardry is going to show them if there is any accuracy in the recording process.

Other things that can contribute to the transparency are also the hall in which they play. A hall with very little reverberation is going to make the orchestra sound differently from a hall with a lot of reverberation. If there's too much reverberation, then frequently a lot of the detail becomes blurred. Orchestras performing in a dry accoustic will often cultivate a much different sound from those who regularly perform in a wetter hall, or those performing in a warmer more bass heavy hall will cultivate a different sound from an orchestra in a brighter, cooler hall. Believe me, the NYPO sounded completely different from how they expected to sound when they moved from Carnegie Hall to Lincoln Center, and they have been tinkering with orchestral sound and the hall's accoustics ever since.

The other thing you bring up is the role of engineering and equipment in recordings. Here I'm still feeling my way, so please bear with me if I'm not completely clear or lucid.

While it's true that greater detail is more apparent with a well recorded cd on top notch audio equipment, those details that contribute to transparency of an orchestra are still present even when you listen with less than optimal equipment. I know this because I can still hear those "inner voices" when I'm listening in the morning to my average sounding clock-radio that is tuned into the classical station. The sound quality of the radio is nothing special and the reception that I get is really variable. That doesn't make a difference because although it sounds tinny with occasional static interludes, all of the outlines are still there. I can still tell that the violins have a leaner sound or a plusher sound, whether the winds are not drowned out but apparent and that the performance/interpretation is great (or horrid as the case may be). Yes, it sounds better when I play the cd on my more expensive audio system, but I'm not hearing things there that not also present on the radio broadcast, although those things sound much more beautiful and "apparent" on the more expensive system. Think of it this way: a live concert is like seeing a beautiful painting in a beautiful room with perfect lighting. A good recording is like seeing a larger sized excellent quality print of a great photograph of the artwork. Playing the recording on a mediocre or poor system is like looking at an average quality snapshot. Which format is better? Which format reveals more detail? Well, obviously, nothing beats live in a great hall, but I can see pretty close to all of the details I need in that 4 by 6 snapshot to judge what is going on. However, it's much nicer if I have that poster size archive quality print with the more accurate color reproduction and larger size so that I can really pick out detail. However, no matter how good that photo is, it's not putting anything into the picture that wasn't there in the first place. If the orchestra doesn't have great transparency, then the recording engineers shouldn't put it there. If they do, then they are not accurately reproducing the sound.
post #2433 of 3714
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mark from HFR
I finally got around to reading the new Gramophone which showed up in the mail last week. There's a rave review of the Bertini by Jed Distler.

M
Mark, which issue are you reading? I have the June issue but I haven't seen that review in it.

Found it by looking in the index. Well, well! Let's not forget that Distler also writes for Classicstoday.

Ooh! did you see that reference in the review to Nagano or Tennstedt having the top position for the M8?!! And here I thought the Gramophone put Rattle's M8 at the top of the heap. Is it just JD's voice or are they finally getting some balance?
post #2434 of 3714
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bunnyears
Mark, which issue are you reading? I have the June issue but I haven't seen that review in it.

Found it by looking in the index. Well, well! Let's not forget that Distler also writes for Classicstoday.

Ooh! did you see that reference in the review to Nagano or Tennstedt having the top position for the M8?!! And here I thought the Gramophone put Rattle's M8 at the top of the heap. Is it just JD's voice or are they finally getting some balance?
Perhaps Distler is seeing how much he can slip under the radar. Didn't they change editors recently? If so, that might explain the new angle. Time will tell. Anyway, for my 2 cents' worth, I think Bertini's set is great, even if that forces me to be in agreement with that man at Classicstoday (and I don't mean Distler).

M
post #2435 of 3714
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mark from HFR
Perhaps Distler is seeing how much he can slip under the radar. Didn't they change editors recently? If so, that might explain the new angle. Time will tell. Anyway, for my 2 cents' worth, I think Bertini's set is great, even if that forces me to be in agreement with that man at Classicstoday (and I don't mean Distler).

M
hehe

I didn't realize that G had a new editor -- which only means that I'm looking at more pictures than text!

Actually, I'm thinking of restarting my subscription to Fanfare and subscribing to BBC Music which has real cds, not compilations with the magazine. That way I'll have as many periodicals in the house as cds.
post #2436 of 3714
It's good to see that we are all one happy - if slightly loquacious - family again. I suppose that I will just have to hold my tongue on Herr Tennstedt's view of how to conduct Herr Mahler.

Working on Boulez' Das klagende Lied on Sony from 1970 and Mitropoulos' '59 M6. Bought and finished Barenboim's new M7. It's nice and has a clear concept, but I am not sure that it can really compete with some of the other ones out there. The Staatskapelle Berlin is a good opera band, but I am not entirely sure that Mahler is their strong suit. Perhaps Barenboim doesn't think in the long line (I don't really believe that, but you never know...), but the performance seems a tad disjointed. I won't be getting rid of my Boulez or Abbado discs anytime soon.
post #2437 of 3714
Here's an excerpt from Distler's review:

A colleague aptly and accurately likened Bertini's emphasis on the proverbial big picture to Rafael Kubelik's DG Mahler cycle, although Bertini's Cologne musicians operate on an altogether higher level of first-desk refinement and chamber-like sensitivity to the composer's extraordinary palette of orchestral colour. (Gramophone, June 2006, p.53)

Now, a quick search has led me to the "colleague's" review -- none other than David Hurwitz's 10/10 at C/T. No wonder Distler didn't name him.

Gary Bertini's approach in some ways resembles Kubelik's, in that he's always thinking in terms of large paragraphs and never distorts a phrase or fractures the long musical line in order to make his interpretive points. (ClassicsToday)
post #2438 of 3714
Quote:
Originally Posted by PSmith08
I suppose that I will just have to hold my tongue on Herr Tennstedt's view of how to conduct Herr Mahler.
Oh, no, not at all! Rather, the opposite. Let your tongue ramble on enough to tell what you prefer and why. That's where the insights start blooming. My only frustration previously was that there isn't any room for discussion if we just say such-and-such is right or wrong. We must travel beyond that to get to the good stuff.

Mark
post #2439 of 3714
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mark from HFR
Oh, no, not at all! Rather, the opposite. Let your tongue ramble on enough to tell what you prefer and why. That's where the insights start blooming. My only frustration previously was that there isn't any room for discussion if we just say such-and-such is right or wrong. We must travel beyond that to get to the good stuff.

Mark
Fair enough, though, I am afraid that my expanded attitude might be as final as my condensed version. Simply put, if Mahler hadn't gone to such absurd lengths in his scores to make it clear what he wanted, then I might be inclined to brook Tennstedt's attitude. Now, Mahler might have played it differently each night, depending on what he had for dinner or how angry he was at Walter Gropius; however, Mahler being absent, all we have are his scores demanding perfection. Any other composer, and I'd be willing to entertain the idea of playing around with it. However, when the greatest conductor of his age writes "do this" or "not so fast," I am inclined to seek obedience. If Mahler didn't intend for it to be played perfectly and to his exact specifications, then why would such a brilliant and neurotic mind have gone to the trouble of writing the instructions?
post #2440 of 3714
Quote:
Originally Posted by PSmith08
Fair enough, though, I am afraid that my expanded attitude might be as final as my condensed version. Simply put, if Mahler hadn't gone to such absurd lengths in his scores to make it clear what he wanted, then I might be inclined to brook Tennstedt's attitude. Now, Mahler might have played it differently each night, depending on what he had for dinner or how angry he was at Walter Gropius; however, Mahler being absent, all we have are his scores demanding perfection. Any other composer, and I'd be willing to entertain the idea of playing around with it. However, when the greatest conductor of his age writes "do this" or "not so fast," I am inclined to seek obedience. If Mahler didn't intend for it to be played perfectly and to his exact specifications, then why would such a brilliant and neurotic mind have gone to the trouble of writing the instructions?
Well, you certainly make a good argument for treating Mahler as a capricious control-freak! But, he's dead now and not likely to complain about it. Also, sometimes control-freaks don't really have the best ideas about their works -- if Mahler had found perfection, why would he have changed things around so much? I have forgotten who pointed out that the only works he didn't tinker with were the ones he never conducted. Just consider the M6, where he wrote it with the movements in one order and then only conducted it with the order of the internal movements reversed. From a musical and dramatic viewpoint, the symphony works much better with the Andante in the third position. It may also work visually in the concert hall when the audience sees the hammer lifted for a third awful time. I think many of Mahler's changes were because he really didn't have complete confidence in his works and always worried about what critics would say. He also probably made changes in the face of the negativity and recalcitrance of his musicians. We can't really assess how he was feeling on a given night when he conducted so I think the score is just going to be a launch pad. Those closely written directions are just clues to how he may have conducted on a given night and perhaps were never meant to be guidelines for posterity. I'm not the Mahler scholar some others are; I don't read the score and haven't read numerous biographies. I only have my ears to guide me, and I know when something works purely from a listener's vantage point because there are so many different recordings of the symphony that I have listened to. For my money, I want any performance that has drama, tension, drive, energy and emotion, and I'm not going to quibble with how the conductor does it so long as he achieves something of beauty.
post #2441 of 3714
For my money, I want any performance that has drama, tension, drive, energy and emotion, and I'm not going to quibble with how the conductor does it so long as he achieves something of beauty.

My thought on this subject is this:

Gustav Mahler the man is dead, but his music is alive.

If we seek to confine his music to a strictly defined set of parameters, his music will die along with him.

-jar
post #2442 of 3714
To be entirely fair, Mahler's dictatorial style was one of the pretenses that got him kicked out of the Staatsoper and Vereinsaal. I don't see anything wrong in being a capricious control-freak, but if that's the case, then conductors and musicologists need to stop monkeying around with Mahler and start letting him speak on his own terms.

In that spirit, after listening to Boulez' 1970 recording of Das klagende Lied , I am surprised that this work hasn't been better-integrated into the Mahler canon. It isn't the Mahler of Das Lied von der Erde, but it is still interesting. One can see, clearly, the programmatic aspect that was to be a trademark of Mahler's symphonies. However, it is more interesting to look at how he struggled with the integration of the text.
post #2443 of 3714
From Bunnyears:
I only have my ears to guide me, and I know when something works purely from a listener's vantage point because there are so many different recordings of the symphony that I have listened to. For my money, I want any performance that has drama, tension, drive, energy and emotion, and I'm not going to quibble with how the conductor does it so long as he achieves something of beauty.

You are absolutely correct. Well said. We often forget that in earlier generations, composers only had one shot to get the audience to appreciate their work. There were no recordings to go back to any carefully pick apart the interpretation. I think Mahler also wanted the same characteristics you state: it's all in the music! The "bad" Mahler performances are ones that try to turn it into something it's not, or emasculate it. Mahler's music is too vital and shattering to waste time (and money) on slow, dull, tepid affairs.
Also, even though audiences in some places at some times were much better aurally equipped than the norm nowadays, not everyone was a trained musician who read scores and studied the music via piano reductions. The music had to be understood by novice and professional alike. Some composers couldn't care less about the average music listener and appealed to the snobby elite. The neglect of their music is easily explained and deserved (Roger Sessions anyone?).
Fo those of us with ears and minds receptive to Mahler, I want the full bore experience. No wimpy Mahler!

PSmith: Are you old enough to remember the extreme thrill when a "new" work by Mahler was to be released to the world? I'm speaking of the Waldmarchen (the first movement) from Das Klagende Lied. It was thrilling. It was pure Mahler and unmistakable. I have lamented for years the dearth of live performances. It's exciting, touching, beautiful music. It also must be very expensive to put on: choir, soloists, extra winds, off-stage band, etc. It was also, for many of us, the first realization than avant garde bad boy Pierre Boulez would be a Mahler conductor to reckon with. If anyone else out there is unfamiliar with this you need to hear it. My own preference is MTT with SFO on RCA. The Hickox on Chandos is excellent, too. The Nagano on Erato goes back to first version.
post #2444 of 3714
Has anyone heard the Mahler piano rolls? He made them in 1905 after he had completed the M5.

I have a recording of Gershwin playing his own music from piano rolls so I know just how limiting the medium was, but they should give a good indication of tempos that Mahler favored. The works recorded are these:
"Ging Heut' Morgens ubers Feld"
"Ich ging mit Lust durch einen grunen Wald"
Symphony # 4 (4th movement)
Symphony # 5 (1st movement)

They are available at Amazon and I am seriously considering getting them (but I suspect I'll listen once and never again).

post #2445 of 3714
Quote:
Originally Posted by mbhaub
PSmith: Are you old enough to remember the extreme thrill when a "new" work by Mahler was to be released to the world? I'm speaking of the Waldmarchen (the first movement) from Das Klagende Lied. It was thrilling. It was pure Mahler and unmistakable. I have lamented for years the dearth of live performances. It's exciting, touching, beautiful music. It also must be very expensive to put on: choir, soloists, extra winds, off-stage band, etc. It was also, for many of us, the first realization than avant garde bad boy Pierre Boulez would be a Mahler conductor to reckon with. If anyone else out there is unfamiliar with this you need to hear it. My own preference is MTT with SFO on RCA. The Hickox on Chandos is excellent, too. The Nagano on Erato goes back to first version.
The "Forest Legend" movement of Das klagende Lied was discovered around 1970, and I was born in March of 1986. However, I can imagine the excitement in the Mahlerian community to see a long-lost piece emerge.

Das klagende Lied is Mahler for people who don't like Mahler. It's echt-Wagnerian musical grammar, mixed with long stretches of "traditionally" Mahlerian style, makes it an interesting "between two worlds" piece. It also has much in common with Bruckner, especially Helgoland, but also the symphonies. It is very interesting to see Mahler's own style developing its legs and, in the end, closing the age of Wagner and Bruckner. It has moments that remind me, obviously of the First, but also the Second. The allusions to Parsifal, Tannhäuser, and parts of Der Ring des Nibelungen show the Wagnerian influence that was to be less and less obvious as Mahler got into his style. For an early, somewhat-forgotten work, Das klagende Lied shows an interesting evolution of Mahler's style. Rarely does one get to see a composer in transition.

As to Boulez, the late 1960s and early 1970s must have been interesting for Mahlerians. His Proms performances of the M2 and M8 certainly make his (then slightly) earlier rhetorical positions seem slightly absurd. It must have been terrifying in its own way, to see the enfant terrible and high priest of postmodern music start playing with Mahler. Luckily, the experiment was a success.
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