Mahler performances recorded and live

As I write the Sixth Symphony plays under Michael Gielen and the SWR Symphony Orchestra, Baden-Baden. Quite an arresting performance with clear and detailed sound. I started a period of listening again to performances of his works after my wife gave me a copy of Mahler’s letters to his wife Alma.
I think my first Mahler disc, on vinyl, was Solti’s account of the Fourth Symphony with the Concertgebouw, an orchestra closely associate with the composer in his lifetime when Mengelberg encouraged him at a time when he was struggling to be understood. I still like this account which seems a straightforward approach with a fine soloist in Sylvia Stahlmann in the fourth movement. However I have just listened to Mengelberg’s account which seemed to me extremely revealing. His close association with Mahler must surely have provided an insight: for example the use of rubato, apparent on the piano roll that Mahler played himself, is likely to be idiomatic. Rattle’s account with the CBSO is also of interest when he takes the opening with a change in tempi, reversing the usual way it starts quickly the slowing. This is claimed to be in accordance with Mahler’s wishes.
I added Solti’s performance of the First Symphony to my collection, which again I still enjoy for its dynamism, although Abbado’s account with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is even more so. I have this in a tape cassette collection along with Tennstedt’s performance of the Fourth which I very much enjoy. Lucia Popp like Stahlmann has the right innocence in her voice for the finale,
I was present at the live recorded performance of the First Symphony which Rattle gave with the CBSO in Symphony Hall. He also included the Mahler song cycles alongside the Nielsen Symphonies. Somehow this didn’t work for me. I love the objectivity of Nielsen and somehow I couldn’t enjoy the Mahler songs which are such an important influence on the earlier symphonies. I treasure recordings of the Songs of a Wayfarer and Kindertotenlieder by Fischer-Dieskau under Furtwangler and Kempe.
Mehta was the conductor of the recording of the Resurrection Symphony on vinyl, with Klemperer and the Philharmonia on tape. I heard Klemperer live at the Royal Festival Hall in this work, and presumably his associations with Mahler give this a special place. I like this sober, but powerful approach.
My recording of the Third Symphony was again with Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam under Bernard Haitink. Again I have acquired this on CD coupled with an early work. When the DVD appeared with the Berlin Philharmonic, again with Haitink, I couldn’t resist it. I see he is performing it in Chicago as newly appointed Music Director there. I have not heard this is the concert hall as far as I remember – ah yes I did attend a performance at the Promenade Concerts at the Royal albert Hall in London in 1962 when Norman Del Mar conducted the London Symphony Orchestra with Helen Watts as soloist. also at the Proms in 1963 Colin Davis directed the First Symphony also with the LSO. At this same concert Luigi Nono conducted his Cantata “Sul ponte di Hiroshima.” In August 1964 there were two noteworthy Mahler performances I heard at the Proms. On 13th was the first performance of Deryck Cook’s performing version of 10th subsequently made famous by Rattle This was conducted by his friend composer Berthold Goldschmidt with the LSO. On 24th Charles Groves led the combined Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and BBC Northern Orchestras, soloists and choirs in the mighty Eighth Symphony. It was Groves with the RLPO who, we wre told, introduced Mahler to Rattle. On vinyl I chose Kubelik (along with the 7th) while on CD I have Mitropoulos’s account in addition to Rattle with the CBSO.
Barbirolli’s Fifth (with the New Philharmonia) was added to the LP collection. Although he takes broad tempi this is a gripping account. Fond as I am of Barbirolli in Elgar and Vaughan Williams, I’m not always so persuaded in some other repertoire (I can’t take to his 4th with the BBCSO and the sleigh bells seem to have been replaced by someone hitting a tin can!), although I went to some of his concerts and remember an outstanding Sibelius Second and Nielsen Fourth with the Halle. I have both the Fifth and Ninth (with the Berlin Philharmonic) on CD. This year I heard the Welsh National Orchestra give a remarkable account of the Fifth in Hereford Cathedral at the Three Choirs Festival. It was under Owain Arwel Hughes. Fantastic playing from these young players.
I have returned to Jascha Horenstein with the Stockholm Philharmonic in the Sixth. Again I attended Horenstein concerts in Birmingham and Cheltenham with Bruckner and Brahms in the repertoire, but I regret not Mahler. I found a wonderful account of Das Lied von der Erde with the then BBC Northern Orchestra (now the BBC Philharmonic with the late Alfreda Hodgson as an affecting soloist.
I reported elsewhere of the performance of the Ninth Symphony Barenboim gave with the Chicago S.O. (He conducted the East-West Divan Orchestra in the First.) On disc I had one of the Karajan performances with the Berlin Philharmonic, the other on CD. Barbirolli, Rattle (with the Vienna Philharmonic) and Bruno Walter on CD are on my shelves.


I have had a bit of a struggle coming to terms with Mahler, but I take it I’m not alone in this. His existence in Vienna at the time of the second Viennese School and his acquaintance with Schoenberg and Berg – and their support of his music is fascinating. That makes performances from conductors such as Gielen, well-known for their performances of the second Viennese School, of some considerable interest. I have yet to hear Boulez’s recent recordings which have been given favourable reviews. I rented Bernstein’s Mahler 6th from Amazon relieved that it didn’t appear excessive and pleasantly surprised. Looking at traliers of some of the others I feel they may be something to avoid.
The BBC Music Magazine has included some Mahler including the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth (BBC Philharmonic with Mackerras – I preferred Gielen) and the Tenth (Mark Wigglesworth).

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