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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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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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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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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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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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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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Discussion Starter · #21 ·
What I value a lot are the performances which are not part of any cycle ... Hannigan's 4th, Barshai's 5th, Harding's 10th etc.
This is true. Sometimes one-off performances can be rather special and here I'm thinking about Salonen's recording of 3rd. I haven't heard this recording in ages, but I remember being rather impressed with it. I don't really think of Salonen as a Mahler conductor (besides the 3rd, he's recorded the 4th, 6th and 9th).
 

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Discussion Starter · #29 ·
Salonen is a terrific Mahler conductor. I heard him do the 7th in LA and it was just spectacular. When he first made an appearance decades ago a lot of thought he was just another young, pretty boy with a baton - but he was - is - the real deal. A very fine conductor who will no doubt keep the San Francisco Mahler traditions going strong.
I agree. Salonen is an amazing musician and knowledgeable about the music he chooses to conduct.
 

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Discussion Starter · #30 ·
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
A follow-up to my previous response. One thing that did bother me about Mahlerian was him telling other people how to listen to a piece of music. For example, on another forum, I posted that sometimes I love just listening to the Der Abschied movement only from Das Lied and he told me this was a wrong-headed way to listen to the work and that I must listen to the entire work in order to understand Mahler's intentions. Ummm...yeah. There isn't a wrong way to listen to any music as long as you're listening. That's what is most important.
 

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Discussion Starter · #37 ·
I think I have more than 10 favourite cycles!
At the moment I’d narrow it down to:

Tennstedt
Sinopolii
Boulez
Bernstein (NYP)
Bertini
Great choices! Good to see Tennstedt, Sinopoli and Boulez on your list. I feel these Mahlerians don't get discussed enough!
 

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Discussion Starter · #38 ·
What do Mahler fans think of the Gielen cycle? I bought a copy because it was on sale cheap at JPC several years ago but I rarely get inspired to listen to it.
Honestly, not much. It's not because I think Gielen is 'bad' conductor on the contrary, but there are so many other conductors who have more to say in Mahler's music than Gielen. He was quite fine in the more gnarly symphonies like the 7th and 9th (he had a field day in the Rondo-Burleske from the 9th for example). These two symphonies seem to play more to his own sensibilities. On a side note, his various recordings of Schoenberg, Berg and Webern are quite fine and he seems especially energized in the post-war avant-garde.
 

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Discussion Starter · #49 ·
I received the Gabriel Feltz symphony box set today and it looks quite nice I must say. The 14 CDs are housed in a clamshell case with CD sleeves. Each CD sleeve has the original issued cover art, so this was a nice touch. I'm not sure when I'll even be able to get around to this box set as my backlog is quite vast at this juncture.
 
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