Wednesday, 28 December 2011

At the End of (another) Mahler Year...

... I find myself on a reasonably lengthy railway journey. Having foolishly packed books and my iPod in an inaccesible suitcase, more or less the only amusement - relatively speaking - available is my laptop. Or, of course, whatever I still can muster in my head. Any regular readers may recall a distinct lack of enthusiasm for this year's - and last year's - Mahler anniversaries. I shall not rehearse the arguments now, other than to say that a greater tribute would have been a period of silence; Mahler is a composer I love dearly, perhaps too dearly, but the last thing he needed was a further run of unnecessary performances. (Lorin Maazel... No, I shall stop myself there.) I decided a little earlier en route to set myself a logical puzzle. Not to recommend a favourite recorded version of each symphony, but something a little different: to select a favoured set, with no more than one performance per conductor. Trying to do the same with respect to orchestras proved too much. Doubtless I should change my mind tomorrow, but here are the results, with Amazon links for any who might be interested.

1: Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Rafael Kubelík

2: Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Otto Klemperer

3: London Symphony Orchestra/Jascha Horenstein

4: London Philharmonic Orchestra/Klaus Tennstedt

5: Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Leonard Bernstein

6: WDR Symphony Orchestra, Cologne/Dmitri Mitropoulos

7: Staatskapelle Berlin/Daniel Barenboim

8: Staatskapelle Berlin/Pierre Boulez

Das Lied von der Erde: Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Bruno Walter

9: Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir John Barbirolli

10: Berlin Symphony Orchestra/Kurt Sanderling

Please feel free to comment/to tear apart, and/or to suggest alternative lists.

May next year bring fewer and superior Mahler performances...


Doundou Tchil said...

Sad, isn't it, that this anniversary has brought forth such pointless performances, so many dreadful books and so much hype that Mahler's cause has been set back decades, just as it was on the verge of reaching new heights. Sadder still, those who have come to Mahler this year think that Mahlerkugeln is the only way to go.

Théo Bélaud said...

Hi Mark,
My main disagrees are on the 4th, 5th and the Lied von der Erde. In the later case, I always thought Klemperer's Philharmonia could never be compared here to any other orchestra, and that Ludwig wouldn't either compare to anyone in the Abschied. This is just about technical, sound and formal quality, Klemperer's line being so much clearer for me than Walter's or Bernstein's.

I'm afraid my objection about the 4th and 5th symphonies is somewhat more philosophical. For me both Tennstedt and Bernstein, though so much more brillant than conductors trying to imitate them now, still hold a responsability in what standard, heavy, noisy and almost psychedelic mess Mahler'sinterpretation has become. I've loved it at some time but it sounds all too sophisticated to me now (actually, I would have reacted a little more softly if you had switched those two symphonies award, giving the Fouth to Bernstein/Concertgebouw and the 5th to Tennstedt !).
I guess this has a lot to do with the fact I and some other people enjoyed that much Gergiev's cycle - apart from his very standard 3rd, though)...

Anyway, for what it's worth, I'll stay for the 4th with Van Beinum (1st choice), Mengelberg, Britten, Kondrashin... and for the 5th, obviously Kondrashin and Boulez (what a funny pair, i know) are enough for me !

Mark Berry said...


I'm not sure I follow so much with Tennstedt as with Bernstein - at least not with Tennstedt's Fourth, which puts me somewhat in mind of Klemperer. I take your point, though, even if I still think that Bernstein Vienna 5th quite extraordinary: almost as much in one breath as that of Boulez.

I agonised somewhat over Boulez and Mitropoulos, being tempted to reverse their Eighth and Sixth, but, magnificent performance though Mitropoulos's Salzburg Eighth remains, in the end I could not quite overlook the orchestral (VPO) shortcomings. There is also a wonderful 'live' Boulez BBC Eighth, ditto a Second.

I was a little surprised in retrospect that I found no room for Gielen, or indeed for Haitink, though most of the latter's finest Mahler has been live rather than recorded.

And I admire Klemperer's Das Lied von Der Erde to the skies...

Zwölftöner said...

I shouldn't comment without permitting myself the time to explain why, but I have problems with the Bernstein/WP 5th and Walter Lied. Still, important recordings that should not be dismissed lightly. I am also less admiring than I used to be of Kubelik's BRSO cycle.

My favourite recent Mahler release is Boulez's Third with the WP, a fascinating recording that makes orthodox Mahler 3s that much harder to bear.

Anonymous said...

I too was disappointed by many of the performances.. probably most with Rattle and Berlin - the 3rd (more than with the Maazel performances of the 2nd and 3rd). The Dudamel and LA 9th was another huge disappointment.

However, it may be a little unfair to wish that there had been a period of silence instead.. I don't think these performances, mediocre or not, were entirely pointless. There were many, newer to classical music, who heard the symphonies for the first time - I know a couple. For them, they probably wouldn't now be in awe of Mahler if not for these performances. And, on a related point, if this audience heard a Bernstein Mahler 5 first time round, there wouldn't be much to look forward to!

Mark Berry said...

That's a good point, one that those of us who have heard these works a good number of times (too often?) are wont to miss. I wonder, though, whether we can't have performances that would appeal to both camps.

I couldn't face the idea of Dudamel's Mahler Ninth. A concert I heard him conduct was just about the only professional performance I have heard since I started writing here about which I could think of nothing to say, so I never wrote it up. I hope, though, that you were spared Norrington...

And would it really be the end of the world if, one year, Mahler garnered fewer converts, who might gravitate, say, to Haydn instead? The idea of complaining about too many Haydn performances is, alas, absurd...

ec said...

I do agree that Mahler has been over-represented in the concert hall in the past couple years.. I will probably hear him just once this year - Bychkov (very curious to hear his Mahler).

Unexpectedly, I thought more of Dudamel's 2nd (Proms).. but perhaps that was mostly due to Anna Larsson. I gave Norrington a miss in person, but I did listen on iPlayer - I probably thought much the same as you.

As for Haydn, Colin Davis has been giving some wonderful performances with the LSO (alongside Nielsens/Beethoven). I hope you haven't missed them.