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OK.Icancelled my Solti order.
I am someone who enjoys Mahler, Bruckner and Bartok, but I am far from an expert, far from it. I have a good hifi (DHT) system. I'll leave it at that.
I want to have a single Mahler symphony cycle on Red Book CDs, as main listening source. Interpretively, it needs to be "above average" with some very good performances and no complete clunkers.
Good recordings are a must.
I have looked through the two general reviews on your kind replies to my first post. Here are the ones I have come up with. Which one would suit me the most, do you think?
A. Rafael Kubelik's cycle on DG (463 738-2)
B. Bernard Haitink's studio cycle on Philips (4420502)
C. Bertini Colgne Radio Symphony (EMI)
D. Gielen SO Baden-Baden and Freiberg (Haansler Classic)
Thanks for your patience.
Observe, before you think
combo best sound/performance:
2)Bernstein/NYPO/DGG (not Columbia)
Das Lied Reiner/RCA/SACD
...and what makes it so much worse is that no one can agree on what the best performances are.
^^^...AND if everyone agreed, there would be no need for other recordings or even other live performances--just set up a good sound system and play back the version that was universally ranked #1.(grin)
The first Bernstein cycle can be had for about $25, including shipping. The latest reissue of this has the same mastering as the previous "Carnegie Hall" issue, which greatly improved on previous CD issues. That would leave you with cash left over to supplement with individual recordings and for a completion of the 10th.
I think the consensus is that the 5th is the weakest of this cycle, but there are plenty of great recordings of that to choose from.
FWIW I gave my Bertini away. Too mellow for my tastes. Hurlwitz gave it high praise in his review and I was quite disappointed. Interestingly the notes with the set described it perfectly, I thought. He has also highly praised Gielen and I have no disagreement here. I had the 7th and 9th since they came out in the Gielen Edition on the Intercord label in the early 90's. I bought the set when it came out to get the rest. Not cheap, but I think if you must have a complete set this is your best choice. Excellent benchmark Mahler performances I think that will serve you well until you decide to explore more.
...I'm not sure that he's worth triple the price of the others. Whenever I recommend a single set, it's the Bertini - very good sound and performances, and dirt-cheap. The only performance that I'd consider among the very best is Das Lied von der Erde, but the rest are of high quality.
Once you have the Bertini, you can decide which symphonies you want to pursue further and collect individual performances.
...no one conductor does all of the symphonies equally well. Mahler seems to be particularly sensitive to interpretation so choosing interpretations for individual symphonies is the way to go. I have a number of interpretations of each and found that some conductors brought life to their performances and others were completely off base--but no one conductor got it right on all of the symphonies, in fact no one conductor was my top choice on more than one symphony. So here is my (provisional) list:
1st: Bruno Walter / Columbia Symphony (2 CDs includes 2nd)
2nd: Otto Klemperer / Phiolharmonia Orch.
3rd: Claudio Abbado / Berlin Philharmonic
4th: George Szell / Cleveland Orchestra
5th: John Barbirolli / New Philharmonia Orchestra
6th: George Szell / Cleveland Orchestra
7th: Yoel Levi / Atlanta Symphony
8th: George Szell / Cleveland Orchestra
9th: Bernard Haitink / Royal Concertgebow (2 CDs includes DLVDE)
DLVDE: Otto Klemperer, Christa Ludwig / New Philharmonia Orch.
There is simply no weak spot in his cycle.
On their own each symphony is highly recommendable.
But what counts for me is the art.
1 -- Walter, NBCSO (1939)
Kreutzer, Danish Radio SO (stereo)
2 -- Walter, NYPSO (1948)
3 -- Adler, VSO
Kondrashin, Moscow PO (stereo)
4 -- Mengelberg, COA
Sejna, Czech PO
5 -- Scherchen, ORTF (a bit abridged, but OMG!)
6 -- Scherchen, Leipzig (abridged)
Scherchen, Berlin (I only)
8 -- Mitropoulos, VPO
Levine, BSO (stereo)
Scherchen, Berlin (I only)
9 -- Zander, Boston PO (stereo)
10-- Martinon, CSO (stereo)
Scherchen, Leipzig (I only)
F. Schmidt (I & III only)
DL-- Thorborg, Schuricht
Thorborg, Walter, VPO
I agree. Mahler is not one for a complete set from one conductor.
I also agree with much of your list, esp. the 2nd and 4th. Abbado surprisingly good in the 3rd, though I prefer Horenstein.
And the only DLVDE for me is Walter-Ferrier. Guess I have to live with "limited dynamics." Mono, too. Sometimes you sacrifice when you want the best. ;-)
If I asked ten Mahler lovers for the same list, no two lists would be the same and, if i even knew what I liked or was looking for, my list would be different.
The same would be true if I asked for a recommendation on the complete cycle, which is what I have been trying to do for 2 weeks. In the last two days, I have read a lot of reviews of various cycles. The four I am thinking about seem to be well above average, with no lame performances + they are good recordings. Based on these, I am leaning toward Gielen or Bertini. This will allow me to get my feet wet, without struggling to hear and put my finger on the differences in any number of recordings of each symphony.
This may not seem like the most valid approach, but it sure beats buying the album with the nicest looking cover among the 3 for sale in a classical music shop.
Observe, before you think
I have both of these. I bought the Gielen one-at-a-time as they became available. I bought the Bertini as a set and I remember it was much less than the Gielen set.
The Gielen set is consistently well done with excellent sonics.
I think there are a couple of revered members here on this site who more or less stopped listening after the mid-50's (or at least they're not impressed with any performance since the mid-50's). Whatever floats your boat! ;-)
... and occasionally one of them gives the great ones a run for their money.
If so, details, please!
That's Gielen, but truth be told, I think that the eighth tries to do too many things and ends up being confused, so I probably shouldn't be recommending anything. I did hear it Lorin Maazel do it live when he stepped down from his post at the NY Phil--his grand finale with them, and that performance made more sense than on anything I've heard on record. But even after that, I still can't say that I'm much of a fan.
Bruckner symphonies suffer most from compressed audio, the real essence of this music, its backbone is the massive columns of sound contrasted against the dead quiet passages, that make up the spirit of these works, compress the audio and you are left with silly and boring caricature of what this composer composed.
Many listeners dislike Bruckner and for a good reason, they have never experienced the music of this composer in its full glory.
This is one major reason why most symphonic musicians much prefer the older, analog recordings of Bruckner and Mahler symphonies. Another reason would be the better capturing of the many different subtle variations of instrumental timbres in these works, especially Mahler's - this is perhaps the single most important element of his orchestration, color. Abbado brings out these subtle color differences more than anyone else nowadays. I really wish there were analog recordings of all the great stuff he has done with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra.
Wasn't vahe saying that compressed dynamics compromised the effects that Bruckner (and Mahler) were after. But then you posted that most symphonic musicians prefer older analog recordings for this reason? And that analogue recordings better capture the subtle variations of instrumental colors? I don't think I agree with either of those statements at all, if that's what you really meant. As far as Abbado's recordings are concerned, I don't think any of his earlier recordings can hold a candle to the sound on most of his Blu-rays with the Lucerne Orchestra. (A couple of those blu-rays had production problems, so I don't mean them.)
Hi Chris - yes, I do indeed really mean that. This isn't really the place to get into an analog vs. digital debate, but I will say that I know very few (especially orchestral) musicians, and especially wind players, who would disagree (even the young 'uns hearing a good analog system for the first time). Analog recording most definitely resolves the timbres of our instruments, especially the subtle differences we work so hard at achieving, much better than digital recording does. I am convinced that much of the superiority of the older analog recordings, from the so-called Golden Age, has to do with the miking, too, not just the technology. They just hung one or two mikes out in the hall (or in the case of all those amazing Mercury recordings, about 18 feet above the orchestra). This results in a much more realistic sounding recording than today's multi-miking and multi-tracking. The remix almost never sounds like the real thing.
Now I'm not saying it sounds bad, mind. I'm merely saying that it is not as good. Digital recording technology has gotten better over time, yes. But the miking remains pretty much the same, unfortunately. And as I'm sure you know from experience yourself, a great many "recording engineers" out there still have no clue what they are doing. Almost all of them are very largely self-taught, and every single one, even if they use similar set-ups, will mix things completely differently, often with absolutely no thought to what the actual recording space sounded like (assuming it was done in a nice hall).
As for Abbado, no the recordings he did in the 80's, which were incredible performances, unfortunately did not sound very good, being done in the very early days of digital. This has unfortunately caused many audiophiles to ignore his performances/interpretations completely, which is a crying shame, as some of those are still some of the finest Mahler performances out there, especially the ones done with the CSO. The not so great sound isn't Abbado's fault.
I do agree with you on some points (especially re the simple, more holistic microphoning of the golden age recordings), but OTOH multi-microphoning has advanced beyond its initial (and too long lived!) primitive state (especially in the last few years) IMHO, and hi-rez digital pushes out the boundaries further still. And remember, vahe's original point was about dynamic compression, not microphoning. And there's no way these golden age recordings, good as they are, can compete with today's best digital recordings in that respect.
I have to relate an experience I had a week ago at the California Audio Show. In the room with the Wilson speakers (I think Robert Lang estimated the system cost to be about $400,000!), they were playing some golden age material on vinyl, such as the Curzon/Solti/VPO performance of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1. It was SO frustrating for me, because, here was this deluxe, costly system used for a recording which, although very coherent, still robbed the woodwinds of their tonal body which I hear live as a listener (if I'm seated in a good spot) and which I also hear on modern digital hi-rez recordings. (OTOH, I know from other recordings of that vintage, e.g., Barbirolli's Brahms symphonies, that the thin sound of the VPO winds could easily have been a characteristic of the orchestra, no matter how they were recorded!) Still, it's just hard for me to believe that woodwind players would prefer this to a modern hi-rez digital recording in terms of the richness and subtlety of the wind section's tone quality.
I also agree with you about the sound quality of the Abbado/CSO recordings he did in the 80's. That was, in general, a very ghastly time for sound quality on DG.
BTW, for recent examples of what I mean with regard to well-recorded multi-microphoned digital, try to hear the (multi-channel if possible) Chandos 24/96 downloads of the major orchestral works of Debussy with Deneve and the RSNO, or the selection of Saint-SaŽns orchestral works with Jšrvi and the RSNO. I would not have believed that multi-mirophoning could sound so good. And the woodwinds simply have a body in their tone on these new recordings that did not seem possible to capture in the golden age. Hard to believe, I know - but that's the way I'm hearing it now.
Hi Chris - I won't respond as detailed here, since there are complaints of the thread being hijacked, for which I apologize. All I will say is I cannot agree that miking is better now than it used to be - the more mikes they add, the less it sounds how it actually sounded, and the more the mix plays into it. These recordings where everyone in the orchestra has their own mike usually come out sounding nothing like the real thing - the blend is simply not correct. It creates many more problems than it solves - the most egregious thing being that the mikes are simply placed far too close to the instruments. There is also the issue that modern day digital recordings still routinely cut out all frequencies supposedly out of the range of human hearing, which many, including myself, feel has a detrimental effect on the sound. But this is already longer than I intended it to be - perhaps we can continue this conversation in another place - feel free to email me through the system here, if that's possible. Supposedly audigon has got rid of that feature, I don't know about this site.
Looks as if I can't contact you directly from here, but I think my e-mail link here will work - other inmates have contacted me directly, so I think the link to my e-mail account should still work.
Hi Chris - it wouldn't let me contact you directly, no. It suggested I post my email, but I do not want to do that, as retaining anonymity here allows me to be much more free in posts, especially here on the music forum, to be able to comment on recordings and orchestras, etc., without fear of offending colleagues. I hope you understand. If you are willing to post yours in response here, I will email you privately.
Sure - no problem. Here it is:
Thanks, I'll be in touch!
Bruckner symphonies suffer most from compressed audio
All composers suffer from compress audio. Debating who suffers more is like arguing over which dictator was worse.
What digital performances of Bruckner's are not compressed?
Observe, before you think
There are many labels that produce recordings with minimal compression which I consider acceptable, all major labels chop the dynamics to death with DG being the front runner, but there are few labels that dare to go all out with no compression at all, Bruckner Sym. No.4 on BIS with Vanska is one such example, huge dynamics, Fischer/BFO on Channel is coming up with the 7th later this year, both of these are SACD but they have a CD layer if you are limited to low-rez digital formats.
He cut his teeth on Sibelius!
Observe, before you think
You should be able to find snippets from each on line.
Even if you do not have a SACD setup or do not care for the hi-rez recordings I suggest that you consider Fischer/BFO Mahler recordings on Channel label, start with the M2, it simply sounds spectacular even on the conventional CD layer, the M1 is coming up next week and from what I have heard itís the one to have.
To me Mahler orchestration begs for uncompressed recording, that is only way to hear this music, the massive ups and downs of what an orchestra is capable of. yes Bruno Walter, Klemperer, Barbirolli and may others left us some memorable performances but their recordings do not offer what Mahler had in mind, the sound is compromised, you do not get the full picture.
I agree with this:
"To me Mahler orchestration begs for uncompressed recording, that is only way to hear this music, the massive ups and downs of what an orchestra is capable of. yes Bruno Walter, Klemperer, Barbirolli and may others left us some memorable performances but their recordings do not offer what Mahler had in mind, the sound is compromised, you do not get the full picture."
As an example there is a drum roll crescendo in the last movement of the second that I never really got until I heard it live with full dynamics. To me it was an alarm clock to wake up the dead to start resurrection. I have noted similar effects in the fifth with full dynamics - a mocking laughter, in the 9th the sound of a fart (seriously). The problem is in my experience you need to hear it live to get it. SACD comes closest, but not quite there.
I would try some of these on Spotify or Mog. Spotify has all the Gielen to try before you buy.
Gielen without a doubt. Each recording is highly reccomendable on its own. If you were to ask which are the best performances in the box, I'd list just about the entire box.
What makes Gielen unique is that instead of focusing on superficial tempo changes, his ear is focused on the balance. For example, in the first symphony he brilliantly pushes the stopped and muted brass to the front of the balance in a number of key places (such as the 2nd movement scherzo after the exposition).
1 through 9 come in a single box. 10, Das Lied and Wunderhorn are available seperately.
And throughout, recorded sound is excellent -- one of the best recordings of the hammer blows in the 6th.
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