i managed to conduct a critical listen-and-compare of litton/delos and rattle/emi over the weekend. i own a full score, and one or two references will be made to it - however i've usually included some pointers so that those score-less folks can figure out what i'm rambling on abt.
so how did they fare? i'll divide this into 3 parts: soundwise (ie recording quality), interpretation and finally miscellaneous observations.all of this post's content is strictly imho. remember, as always with reviews, ymmv.
please note also that '>' and '<' are strictly qualitative: if A is FAR better than B, it would be A > B. if C is only a very teensy weensy slightly bit better than D, it would also be C > D.
also, since i conducted this review through an etymotics er4p. please be aware of their characteristics - tons of detail, analytical, transparent, well extended on both ends with a relatively light mid-bass and prone to sound thin at times.
both are on 2 discs. rattle is 2 full priced, litton is 2-for-the-price of 1.soundwise:
both recordings utilise DDD recording. hiss is so low-level as to be almost unnoticeable. the rattle recording is much louder than the litton recording (of concern to those ampless ones). rattle is clearly recorded in a more reverberant enviroment. however, strangely despite the less reverb, the litton has more 'volume' - the rattle recording is straightforward left/right/forward, while the litton has varying degrees of depth
within left/right/forward. i can pinpoint the location of instruments in the litton easily. not so for rattle. litton's recording sounds more 'airy' and 'clear' too, not full of slightly muddled reverb, which is what the rattle sounds like next to it.
the congested orchestration in the final section of movement V are a recording engineer's worst nightmare - but here delo's engineers have truly shown themselves to be real class acts. rattle's ending is fine by itself- IF you havent heard litton's or do not possess a score. score in hand, i have always wondered where the organ's change of note 5 bars from the end was in rattle's. with litton's, it's clearly there, ditto for the bells and triangle in the finale with rattle - i can hardly hear them!
timpanis, glockenspiels, in fact, just about any percussion instruments sound better in litton's than in rattle's. however, the converse can be said for the strings - they clearly sound better in rattle's 2nd (more textured, less lean).
bass is stronger on litton than in rattle's, but the dynamic range on rattle's is slightly greater than litton's.
overall, i must say that recording-wise - the litton wins hands down. in spite of the litton's small weaknesses, the rattle just sounds too confused too often next to the litton. the litton is frighteningly clear at times and always composed.
verdict for sound: litton > rattle (by far)interpretation:
litton and rattle both take roughly the same time to complete the individual movements - at most, they vary from each other by a minute or so. hence, you can say that overall
tempo-wise, they are similar.
however, listening to movements I and II, you would not imagine so. rattle takes a rather stable tempo. litton is more 'wow' and 'flutter', to apply 2 technical audio terms to this - in plain english there is more tempo fluctuation.
i cannot say more without getting into serious subjective issues (personal taste).imo,
movements I: rattle > litton
movements V: litton > rattle
movement II, III and IV are virtually identical.miscellaneous notes:
i prefer the baker/auger combination (rattle) to the murphy/lang one; specifically, i prefer rattle's mezzo (auger) to litton's (lang). litton seems to let the words swim in her mouth at times. her voice also comes across as a shade too tremolous at times. on the other hand, auger projects a more clear voice. simply ethereal. i am fine with both murphy and baker.
the men in litton's choir inhale rather loudly, if there is silence right when they inhale, it can sound rather funny: there is a bit in movement IV when all is silent for a moment before the men burst into song - it can get slightly comical there.
gosh, is the litton's cd sleeve fugly! the designer should be shot. the rattle is, imo, the best looking
mahler 2 on the planet.overall conclusion: litton > rattle (but only by a tiny tiny bit)
these two are very very very competent recordings of mahler. you cannot go wrong with either. if you enjoy detail (or are one a budget), go for litton. if you enjoy atmosphere, go for rattle.
it wasnt an easy choice, but since i prefer detail and clarity, so i prefer litton in the end.