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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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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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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).
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.
 

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Does anyone know if there is a Mahler tradition that would somehow be based on the way Mahler himself conducted the pieces? Could there somehow be a weighty tradition that Mengelberg, a friend of Mahler, would have established at the Concertgebouw?
Regrettably, there is not. We have performances on record of the 2nd by three conductors who knew and worked with Mahler: Oskar Fried, Bruno Walter, and Otto Klemperer. They are all quite different. Same with the 4th: Walter and Mengelberg couldn't be more un-alike. The Ninth will always be a question and DLVDE, too. Walter had close contract with Mahler as they were being written, Klemperer didn't' and again they take really opposite approaches. Mahler as we all know made zillions of minute detailes in his scores and hoped to give the performers a guide as to how he wanted the music played, but as we know all too well those instructions are either ignored or interpreted a million ways. I do not believe there is a wrong or right way to play Mahler: just be honest and let the music move! It cannot be sanitized, smoothed over or be played tepidly. Bernstein really tromps all over the score markings yet somehow seems to get to the heart of the matter much more than anyone else. Then there's Boulez who does try to follow each and every marking and realize what Mahler indicated. Yet, I find Boulez' recordings quite sterile and devoid of passion - and they're just about the best played ones out there.
 

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Don't forget F. Charles Adler who was the chorus master for the premiere of the 8th.
I suppose the best we could do is compare that 8th to the Stokowski - but Stokie never cared what a composer's vision was anyway.
 
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