Great thread DarkAngel! I've been getting to know Mahler for some months now. I never used to like his awkward rhythms and leaping melodic lines but they do become familiar after a while, and there's plenty of sweet lyrical contrast to be had as well (in just about any of the 2nd and 3rd movements). Hope you don't mind if I throw in a few off-topic thoughts, starting with:-My arbitrary appraisal of the Mahler symphonies
(subject to change at whim):-#8
- The Masterpiece. Rarely performed, perhaps due to the "significant" resources required.
Worthy of much greater recognition than it gets. Hopefully, once the "100 years of Mahler" festival cheering subsides, this work will be elevated to its rightful position alongside the greats.#2, #3, #4, #6
- The Jaw-Droppers. These stand up to repeated listening and just keep getting better.#1, #10(complete)
- The Essentials. Mahler seems to have reinvented himself over and again. Who knows what he would have produced if he had lived another 20 or 30 years? As it is though, these symphonies form endpoints of a remarkable journey.#5, #7, #9
- The B-Sides. Oh, don't write them off, there's plenty to get excited about here too. Just don't be surprised to hear a few "token movements" on the way.
I would not recommend a newcomer to listen to them in the above order though!! I say start with #1, as it is highly accessible. Then, if the going gets tough at #2, skip to #4 before coming back to #2.Recommended recordings
NB: I confess to being a sound snob. Whilst I will audition a poor quality recording in order to experience a particular conductor's interpretation, the buck stops there. If the sound sucks, the search continues...#1
. Don't rush the first movement! Ozawa takes his time and adds expressive phrasing which others completely miss. Some superb playing by Boston and an excellent job by Philips make for a good headphone experience. Add Tanglewood and Te Kanawa and you've got a hit.#3Abbado/Vienna/DG/(1980)de Waart/Netherlands Radio/RCA,BMG/(1995)
in the Concertgebouw.
Neither of these is perfect but both very good.#4de Waart/Netherlands Radio/RCA,BMG/(1993)
OMG, I'm telling you, this is da BOMB!
This could be the best sound I have ever experienced through headphones. The RCA Victor team deliver a perfect combination of instrumental intimacy and Concertgebouw acoustics. Almost every instrument gets a solo line here, making Mahler 4 an ideal alternative to Britten's "Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra" (for any music teachers or parents reading this). Suffice to say, on this recording those solos are all captured beautifully. If you like your woodwinds you won't be happier. [Yeah, I like my woodwinds.
] De Waart's interpretation is spot-on too. Pity this recording appears to be unavailable (in the U.S.) at present.#5Mehta/NY Phil/Teldec/(1989)
#5 is obviously a challenge, both for the performers, where the 1st movement has some tricky, exposed violin parts and a heroic french horn line which hits a top F (concert), and also for the conductor, who faces the problem of maintaining the interest through the somewhat pedestrian latter movements. I found Boulez/Vienna/DG/(1996)
boring towards the end. Both Tennstedt/London-Phil/EMI/(1978)
and Bertini/Kolner Rundfunk/EMI/(1990)
are hobbled by EMI's poor efforts and distortion.#6Bernstein/Vienna/DG/(1988)
I love this interpretation. One highlight is the "snake charmer" dance in the 2nd movement. I counted only one over-level distortion event, an improvement over some of Deutsche Grammophon's other attempts. The sound otherwise is great though, including some crispy bells.#7Ozawa/Boston/Philips/(1989)
is a strong contender. For interpretation alone, I may prefer the recently released Abbado/Berlin/DG/(2002 Live)
(the one with the word "MAHLER" cut out of the CD sleeve) but Deutsche has dished out some weird sonics here - the sound alternates narrow/wide and the acoustic wet/dry. Totally bizarre, and not recommended for headphones for that reason. Anyone else heard this Abbado?#8Inbal/Frankfurt Radio/Denon/(1986)
As you may imagine, I am hard to please when it comes to #8, but Inbal comes close and the people at Denon/Nippon Columbia did a great job with this monumental production, albeit with the odd audible splice. This recording has been re-released in a very tempting box set by Brilliant Classics.Sinopoli/Philharmonia/DG/(1990)
is also worth a mention and may go down as one of the finest recordings that DG has ever spoiled by setting the levels too high and splattering the climaxes.#9Bernstein/Concertgebouw/DG/(1985 Live)
. OK, so it's the only version I've heard, but I look no further.#10Chailly/Berlin Radio/Polydor,London/(1986)
Choices seem limited here. Don't think that you've heard Mahler 10 though or that your box set is complete just because it contains the Adagio. A full version is essential, of which Cooke is the standard. When I first heard #10 I had multiple "That's not Mahler" reactions but soon realized that I would have thought the same thing if a question mark had been raised over any of his earlier works. Mahler made leaps and bounds from #4 onwards. Now when I listen to #10 I have only one "That's not Mahler" moment, midway through the 5th movement, where it suddenly seems like half a century may have passed.
As for interpretation, I really couldn't pick a winner between this Chailly performance and Rattle/Berlin/EMI/(1999 Live)
, but where Chailly wins is the more intimate sound (nice woodwinds!) and acoustic of the Jesus Christus church. By contrast, EMI's live recordings have abundant dynamic range but a more distant perspective.Box Sets
For sound, I feel certain that de Waart/Netherlands Radio/RCA,BMG/(199X)
must be impossible to beat. I have heard #1-#4 of this set and I can say without reservation that RCA Victor really excelled themselves and the Concertgebouw sounds beautiful. The playing is for the most part top notch too, starting with a solid fiddle section. However, I don't always like de Waart's interpretation and find him a bit conservative at times. Why doesn't he take a few more risks? On the other hand, it is doubtful that the temperament of any one conductor could match the wealth of expression found in these works which span a lifetime.
Why on earth this set is off RCA's list I cannot fathom. If it has anything to do with de Waart's ongoing Mahler series with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, then perhaps we can look forward to a re-release next year as Edo's tenor comes to an end.Ozawa/Boston/Philips/(198X)
also brings fine playing together with a skilful hand at the mixing desk. Boston's brass is hard to beat (or was in those days). I need to hear more Ozawa to give a verdict on this set. As above though, his #2 is highly recommended.Inbal/Frankfurt Radio/Denon/(198X)
, recently re-released by Brilliant Classics at a price which brings this set well into the in-zone. Don't confuse it with the even cheaper Mahler compilation by the same label...
For interpretative interest I am attracted to the later Bernstein set but it comes at a price where I might prefer concert tickets over shiny plastic discs. What a pity he never got to tackle #8 again for the final series, and what a pity he never threw the weight of his endorsement behind one of the completed versions of #10.