Originally Posted by DarkAngel
How do you like the Gielen set?
Ok, I cracked open the Gielen set today and listened to M2. My reactions are mixed, but the one thing I can say for sure is that I can't wait to listen to the rest of the cycle. There were some true flashes of brilliance in the performance that convinced me that Gielen is the real deal when it comes to Mahler.
Take for example at about 3 minutes into the Andante moderato
, where Gielen pulls the violins way back and really lets the cellos have the melody. The violins are still there providing a wonderful accompaniment, but the cellos clearly are the star here. In most interpretations, it's more of a toss up that doesn't provide such a great window into Mahler's beatiful counterpoint and harmony. This is just one bright spot in what is definitely one of the best 2nd movements I've ever heard. Really, really impressive.
Also, the buildup to the finale from when the chorus makes their first magical entrance until about 3:30 from the end when the organ and timpani come in is phenomenal. I think what makes it so great is that Gielen is not in a rush to the finish line. He takes his time, partially with casual tempi, but also with phrasing, and treats this part of the movement as having its own significant impact. I got the sense that if the chorus just gently, quietly brought the symphony to a close, it would still sound right. If you did that with most interpretations, it would be a jarring end and would leave you feeling cheated (which of course you would be if you missed such a finale as the one in question). When the finale does finally come, it sounds all the better thanks to Gielen's thoughtful build-up.
was very well done, and Cornelia Kallisch gave one of the best readings of the text I've heard so far (although she was a little too heavy of voice), aside from Lieberson. I doubt I'll ever hear an Urlicht
that impresses me as much as MTT/Lieberson, so rest assured that this one is about as good as gets other than them.
Unfortunately, I wasn't as thrilled with the entire performance. I thought the first movement as a whole was pretty average. I felt like Gielen missed a lot of the gravitas of the funeral march, and he has a tendency for sudden accellerandi
that feel a little jerky and contrived. The movement just didn't come off as shatteringly as it should. I felt similarly about some of the final movement before the choral entrace.
The other thing that bothered me was the unevenness of the orchestral playing. Here's the thing: Gielen's orchestra has some phenomenal players. All of the soli
parts were played very well. And the ensemble sound of the orchestra is very good too. The problem is, every once in a while there seemed to be some synchronization problems. Quite a few times, especially in the first movement and the first part of the last movement, it sounded like some of the inner orchestral voices weren't quite on track with the melody. It's not that the playing was rhythmically sloppy, it's just that it seemed like some sections of the orchestra were a little off the beat. The other quibble I have with the playing is the balance at a few points. The percussion was almost too loud (and I'm a percussionist, so that's saying something) at a few points when they had a solo part, and too quiet most of the rest of the time. The strings were a little underbalanced during louder passages, as if they weren't playing their loudest, or there weren't enough od them to balance with the brass. These are minor complaints, but they were noticeable.
As for sound quality, it's good, but I also have a few minor concerns there. There is some smearing of images (possibly a sign of some spot miking that could also contribute to the orchestral balance issue?), and the overall soundstage isn't as large as some modern full orchestra recordings. That said, this disc has some of the best recorded bass response that I've heard. It's present and rich, but it sounds real, not overdone for effect. And the recorded sound for the chorus is just great. Finally you get a solid foundation on the bottom from the basses that can easily be drowned beneath the sopranos. In this recording you get an organic, well-balanced sound picture of the whole chorus, and the effect is very impressive.
So to sum it all up, it's good, but the drawbacks I mentioned keep it from being great. The middle three movements are fantastic, absolutely first class, as are parts of the Finale. But the first movement is not on the same level, and some apparent slips of togetherness in the orchestra are bothersome. But as I said at the beginning, I'm excited for the rest of the set, because we clearly are dealing with a conductor who has some real insight and a first-class orchestra recorded in modern sound.
Comparisons: For M2, I own Gielen, MTT, Abbado, Bernstein, Litton, Boulez, Klemperer, Rattle, Chailly, and Kaplan/LSO. I'd say Gielen is kind of a mix between Boulez and Litton. The performance as a whole is not overly flashy, and it seems to stress the music more than the theatrics, which is very much like Boulez (whose version I did like for the most part, but I had similar complaints with the first movement, and more complaint with the finale). But Gielen's phrasing is very thoughtful and varied, and he takes some liberties with changes of tempi, which reminds me of Litton's account.
We'll see how the rest of the set stacks up.