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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
First off, my apologies if this thread has already been discussed before, but I would love to get everyone's take on the plethora of the Mahler symphony cycles that have been recorded. What are your favorites? I own probably around 20 or so complete symphony cycles and, honestly, there are several of them I'm only now becoming familiar with: Sinopoli, Ozawa, Maazel (Sony), Tilson Thomas and Nott.

Anyway, would love all of my fellow Mahlerians to contribute and see if we can get to the jest of your favorite Mahler performances.
 

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Yes I saw you were listening to Sinopoli in the Current Listening thread and agreed that Mahler was a strength of his. Abbado has a fairly good cycle on Deutsche Grammophon (not a true cycle; the Second was done with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra) and the live recordings have minimal audience noise and are engineered very well. Solti had some strong recordings in his cycle, especially the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh. Boulez is one of my favorites; clear textures, precise rhythms, and never overly sentimental; plus recorded in good sound. Again not a true cycle; it's spread across the Vienna Philharmonic, Cleveland Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and Staatskapelle Berlin, but all for Deutsche Grammophon. There are the two Leonard Bernstein cycles ('60s on Sony, and '80s on Deutsche Grammophon). Chailly's cycle was pretty strong if I remember correctly. Kubelík made a cycle for Deutsche Grammophon in the '60s with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra which tends to on the light/fleet end of the spectrum, and can sometimes be a bit harsh sonically, but which I still recommend. Oh and Haitink on Philips is a solid set.

But Mahler is hard to get consistently right, and many of these cycles have a blind spot somewhere in there. I certainly have my own blind spots also...
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Yes I saw you were listening to Sinopoli in the Current Listening thread and agreed that Mahler was a strength of his. Abbado has a fairly good cycle on Deutsche Grammophon (not a true cycle; the Second was done with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra) and the live recordings have minimal audience noise and are engineered very well. Solti had some strong recordings in his cycle, especially the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh. Boulez is one of my favorites; clear textures, precise rhythms, and never overly sentimental; plus recorded in good sound. Again not a true cycle; it's spread across the Vienna Philharmonic, Cleveland Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and Staatskapelle Berlin, but all for Deutsche Grammophon. There are the two Leonard Bernstein cycles ('60s on Sony, and '80s on Deutsche Grammophon). Chailly's cycle was pretty strong if I remember correctly. Kubelík made a cycle for Deutsche Grammophon in the '60s with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra which tends to on the light/fleet end of the spectrum, and can sometimes be a bit harsh sonically, but which I still recommend. Oh and Haitink on Philips is a solid set.

But Mahler is hard to get consistently right, and many of these cycles have a blind spot somewhere in there. I certainly have my own blind spots also...
I own and like all of those sets you mentioned. And, yes, indeed no cycle is without fault of some kind nor are there any absolute definitive Mahler cycles, IMHO. The Bernstein on Sony gets really close for me. There are strengths and weaknesses of this cycle, too. I think Haitink and Bertini, for example, offer great middle-of-the-road performances that aren't too white hot nor are limpid or without feeling. I mean there's really a Mahler cycle for every occasion. A cycle I need to get around to buying is the Ádám Fischer cycle. I've heard great things about it.

You know what...I think I'll go buy it now. Another cycle I'm interested and that came out not too long about is from Gabriel Feltz --- a conductor I know virtually nothing about.
 

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If I could only keep a few cycles out of the pile I have, I'd keep: Bertini (EMI), Chailly (Decca), Bernstein (Sony), and probably Inbal (Denon). Some of the other sets have some really fine performances but their share of dogs. And Mahler just demands the best possible sound; the DG Bernstein sounds better than the Sony, but I prefer his earlier versions. The only set I might really, really miss: Kubelik (DG).
 

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I already have six cycles which is too much but if the Bertini cycle ever gets re-issued by Warner Classics I'll probably buy it. I suppose I listen to Bernstein Sony, and Boulez the most. My others are Bernstein DG, Tennstedt, Gielen, and Ozawa.
 
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I have three favourite Mahler cycles: DG Bernstein (really wonderful interpretations, very passionate and powerful, perfect rhythms and dynamics), Solti (especially the first four symphonies) and Chailly (apart from the 8th Symphony, a bit too slow tempi). Honourable mention for Tennstedt.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
I have three favourite Mahler cycles: DG Bernstein (really wonderful interpretations, very passionate and powerful, perfect rhythms and dynamics), Solti (especially the first four symphonies) and Chailly (apart from the 8th Symphony, a bit too slow tempi). Honourable mention for Tennstedt.
Surprised to see Solti amongst your favorites. I love his Mahler, too. I think his star has kind of faded when people talk about their favorite Mahler conductors. Aside from his Chicago recordings, I also enjoy those recordings he made with the LSO (the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 9th). Bernstein's DG cycle is excellent, but I usually skip his performance of the 4th, which is strange as he uses that boy soprano, which doesn't sound wholly convincing. Chailly is an excellent all-around cycle. Tennstedt is one of my favorite Mahlerians. I recently acquired his studio cycle on HQCD and, so far, have been impressed with the fidelity of these remasters.
 

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I have and like lots but Kubelik, Bertini, Chailly, Gielen, Levine (yeah I know its not a full set) and Boulez (thanks to Knorf for getting me to give this set another go) are all very strong. I should also mention the wonderful but uber rare 1995 Mahlerfeest set which is highly recommended if you can get hold of a copy. I wish Honeck would finish the cycle off for Exton as what he has done has been excellent however Exton already have my go-to Mahler set now in the shape of Inbal's superb 2nd cycle with the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra. Outstanding accounts in state of the art sound. Gatti has done quite a few of them now (1,2,4,5 & 6?) and he's well worth a look at.
 

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Surprised to see Solti amongst your favorites. I love his Mahler, too. I think his star has kind of faded when people talk about their favorite Mahler conductors. Aside from his Chicago recordings, I also enjoy those recordings he made with the LSO (the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 9th). Bernstein's DG cycle is excellent, but I usually skip his performance of the 4th, which is strange as he uses that boy soprano, which doesn't sound wholly convincing. Chailly is an excellent all-around cycle. Tennstedt is one of my favorite Mahlerians. I recently acquired his studio cycle on HQCD and, so far, have been impressed with the fidelity of these remasters.
Really, why is it so surprising? :) I appreciate Solti's LSO recordings too, especially the 1st, very intense and compelling. I agree the 4th is the weakest point of the Bernstein DG set, it's very remarkable, but I use to prefer Solti, Chailly or Karajan (by the way, what a pity he never recorded a complete Mahler cycle!); I also agree about the great quality of Tennstedt's mahlerian interpretations, unfortunately I haven't got his cycle (just some recordings), though I've listened to it.
 

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Levine (yeah I know its not a full set)
Here's another where it could be a complete set, but the legal issues will likely never let it happen He did what was by all reports a knock-out, once-in-a-lifetime Mahler 2nd in Boston. I have friends who were there and they still rave about it all these years later. It was recorded - but would the BSO ever let it out? And Levine did the 8th with Boston - the Carnegie Hall performance got pretty bad reviews. But then he also did in Boston and in Chicago and Vienna. If the 2nd and 8th could somehow be acquired, along with a DLVDE it could be the best overall Mahler set out there.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Here's another where it could be a complete set, but the legal issues will likely never let it happen He did what was by all reports a knock-out, once-in-a-lifetime Mahler 2nd in Boston. I have friends who were there and they still rave about it all these years later. It was recorded - but would the BSO ever let it out? And Levine did the 8th with Boston - the Carnegie Hall performance got pretty bad reviews. But then he also did in Boston and in Chicago and Vienna. If the 2nd and 8th could somehow be acquired, along with a DLVDE it could be the best overall Mahler set out there.
A side note because you now have me curious: I haven't heard Levine's Das Lied von der Erde on DG, but the reviews are pretty...well, let's just say they're not favorable. He's got two star soloists: Siegfried Jerusalem and Jessye Norman. Have you heard this recording? If yes, any good?

 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Really, why is it so surprising? :) I appreciate Solti's LSO recordings too, especially the 1st, very intense and compelling. I agree the 4th is the weakest point of the Bernstein DG set, it's very remarkable, but I use to prefer Solti, Chailly or Karajan (by the way, what a pity he never recorded a complete Mahler cycle!); I also agree about the great quality of Tennstedt's mahlerian interpretations, unfortunately I haven't got his cycle (just some recordings), though I've listened to it.
I'm not sure, but it just doesn't seem like Solti's Mahler gets much love, but I"m glad this isn't the case with you. Karajan is a great Mahlerian! His recording of the 6th is my reference recording. I've never heard it played like this by anyone. An absolute exhilarating performance. And, yes, it is too bad he didn't record the whole cycle. I believe he only recorded the 4th, 5th, 6th, 9th (twice) and Das Lied von der Erde, which, I'll be honest, didn't really click with me. There are so many other Das Lied recordings that I prefer over Karajan. If you haven't heard the Jurowski recording on Pentatone, then please do so. It's remarkable.
 

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Mahlerian used to be a very knowledgeable commenter (moderator at one point) on this forum and he despised Karajan's recording of Mahler's Sixth. Accused Karajan of altering balances, tempi and phrasing, distorting it away from Mahler's directions. I don't have such an encyclopedic knowledge of Mahler's Sixth; Karajan definitely sounds different in places, such as the end of the first movement, from what I recall, but I certainly didn't have a visceral reaction to it. It's a recording I'm glad to have but would never recommend as a first choice. At the very least Karajan's Mahler is controversial. See the comment chain here (there's actually a half-decent debate here): Karajan's Mahler 6
 

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Another Solti/ Chicago fan . Tennstedt on EMI , Bernstein specially on DVD, and Nott . The few Karajan made are stunning and guilty pleasure the Inbal's from Denon, not top but just like a decent restaurant you go to from time to time .
 

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I have number of Mahler sets supplemented by numerous individual discs. As others have stated there is no set that gets everything right so why buy full sets - because at times it was cheaper to buy a box of all the symphonies than the two or three individual recordings I was after.
My sets: Bernstein (Sony & DG), Chailly, Boulez, Rattle, Tennstedt, Abbado (DG), Sinopoli, Levine, Bertini, Gielen, Kubelik, Stenz (a set I took a chance on buying when it was described as acceptable I bought the 13 discs for £5.53 including delivery - the discs are like new but the box needed a little TLC).
I'd really struggle to name favourite sets because none is perfect but over the last year or so, Boulez, Levine and Bernstein (Sony) have been played most frequently - but that will change as time passes.
With regard to the incomplete Levine I have supplemented the set with the live second from Vienna which I enjoy:



I haven't bothered looking for an 8th as I rarely play that symphony.

I am tempted by Maazel's late Philharmonia set which has what many would consider 'glacial' tempos but from what I've sampled I find his vision interesting and worth considering - why have another set that just sounds the same as the rest.
 

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If I had to choose a complete set, my choice would undoubtedly be Haitink/Concertgebouw. I seem to agree on everything with Maestro Haitink and I seem to like everything about the orchestra's playing. Surprisingly, the one set that I would choose were it not Haitink, would probably be Rattle/Birmingham. The interpretations are just so colourful, insightful and convincing, and somehow down to earth.

But if I had to choose definite individual recordings, this would be my list:

Symphony no. 1 -- Solti / London
Symphony no. 2 -- Klemperer / Philharmonia
Symphony no. 3 -- Haitink / Concertgebouw
Symphony no. 4 -- Karajan / Berliner
Symphony no. 5 -- Rattle / Berliner
Symphony no. 6 -- Rattle / Berliner
Symphony no. 7 -- Solti / Chicago
Symphony no. 8 .. Haitink / Concertgebouw
Symphony no. 9 -- Karajan / Berliner

Barbirolli and Bernstein are Mahler conductors for me to avoid. They conduct Mahler way too heavy for me, as if everything Mahler ever wrote was the wisest, greatest, most profound and most serious thing on earth. It´s too bad I started off with Barbirolli and Bernstein, and initially messed up my thoughts on the symphonies with versions I would never choose as definite now that I know what I know.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
Mahlerian used to be a very knowledgeable commenter (moderator at one point) on this forum and he despised Karajan's recording of Mahler's Sixth. Accused Karajan of altering balances, tempi and phrasing, distorting it away from Mahler's directions. I don't have such an encyclopedic knowledge of Mahler's Sixth; Karajan definitely sounds different in places, such as the end of the first movement, from what I recall, but I certainly didn't have a visceral reaction to it. It's a recording I'm glad to have but would never recommend as a first choice. At the very least Karajan's Mahler is controversial. See the comment chain here (there's actually a half-decent debate here): Karajan's Mahler 6
If I recall Mahlerian didn't like Bernstein's interpretations of Mahler either. I used to talk with him a good bit on another forum he used to frequent, but it seems like he has disappeared. Oh well, I like hearing different interpretations of Mahler even if it doesn't quite work on first-listen.
 

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I find Mahler a difficult composer to understand, but am gradually getting more familiar with his symphonies. A week ago, I got my first Mahler cycle-- the DG Kubelik one-- and have listened to the first and second symphonies. The first is excellent; the second is good but lacks a certain "epicness."

Kubelik is more focused on sounding beautiful than emphasizing Mahler's neuroticism, at least in the first two symphonies. He also takes fairly quick tempos-- the upshot of that is that all the symphonies fit on one CD, except for the third.
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 · (Edited)
Here are all the complete cycles I own --- CD box sets used to be cheaper and I accumulated many of them from 2008 through 2015 (or so):

Abbado - DG
Abbado - DG (Live cycle with Berliners with exception of the 2nd, which is with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra)
Bernstein - Sony
Bernstein - DG
Chailly - Decca
Tennstedt - EMI/Warner
Jansons - BR Klassik
Sinopoli - DG
Inbal - Denon
Solti - Decca
Maazel - Sony
Maazel - Signum Classics
Bertini - EMI
Rattle - EMI/Warner
Haitink - Philips/Decca
Gergiev - LSO Live
Kubelik - DG
Tilson Thomas - SFS Media
Gielen - SWR Music
Nott - Tudor
Neumann - Supraphon
Boulez - DG
Feltz - Dreyer Gaido
Tabakov - Capriccio
Svetlanov - Warner
Stenz - Oehms

And there's no telling how many partial cycles I own --- too many to list here that's for sure. :)
 
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