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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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My preference changes over time, and my favourites often don't come from cycles; but anyway, staying with cycles, or mostly incomplete cycles -

Chailly/Gewandhaus (Accentus) (No #3, #10, DLVDE)
Kubelik/BRSO (Audite) (No #4, #10)
Abbado/Lucerne (EuroArts, Accentus) (No #8,#10,DLVDE)
Ádám Fischer/Düsseldorf (Avi Music) (No #10)

The Chailly and the Kubelik are in general sharper than their studio cycles. The Abbado, compared to his earlier efforts, is sometimes weightier sometimes more transparent, not necessarily better in any one aspect, but different. The Ádám Fischer is a bit eccentric, not dissimilar to Scherchen at his best, but staying sane.
 

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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
Re Maazel's live Philharmonia set (which I quite like), I attended the performance of the 8th, where one of the double-bassists fainted about 5 minutes from the end, her instrument clattering loudly to the floor as she slipped off her chair. There's no audible trace of this on the recording, as it happened precisely in the pause before the Chorus Mysticus was about to sing "Alles vergängliche", so it would have been an easy edit. Maazel didn't bat an eyelid and calmly held his baton aloft until the lady had been safely escorted off stage, then continued as if nothing had happened. Happily, the bassist concerned was perfectly fine afterwards.
 

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Obviously this is an impossible question to answer, as there are so many really good sets/cycles out there, and of the 20-odd I seem to have accumulated, only one never seems to get an airing (Gergiev's cycle, which I not only find brash, but I am also unhappy to listen to anything produced by Putin's little rentboy)

I have sentimental favourites as well as proper "musical" favourites, among the former the wonderful Neumann set on Supraphon. I also have a very high opinion of the Solti set, not just for his 8th, but there is a superb 6th, 7th there (and his earlier LSO 9th and 2nd are favourite recordings too...)

OK, best set, here goes.......a toss up between Rafael Kubelik and Michael Gielen, possibly a win for the latter because it contains the 10th and most other Mahler things too. But chuck in some of Kubelik's Audite recordings, and it'd tip the scales back the other way...

Easily overlooked is the Bertini cycle, which doesn't have a weak performance in it, although no individual symphony stands out as a top choice for me. Sinopoli has some real gems, and I have thoroughly enjoyed both the complete Dusseldorf set from Adam Fischer, and the near-complete Budapest set from little brother Ivan. I seem to see some quite dismissive assessments of Adam's set, and don't quite see why, perhaps just a little bit of Mahler fatigue from the critics? Incidentally the two Fischer sets are about as different as they could be, Ivan plays up more of the detail, Adam more of the form and flow, both work extremely well.

There are also some excellent individual performances in sets from Ozawa (not many I really like, though), Tennstedt (maybe they have lost their gloss over the years?) Maazel, Inbal, Haitink, Bernstein x 2, Chailly (debatably the best recorded set I have), Rattle, Abbado (his earlier 7th is a particular favourite), Boulez, Abravanel.
 

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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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Of the cycles I've owned and pieces I've heard I best liked those by Maurice Abravanel and Utah Symphony, Vaclav Neumann and Czech Philharmonic, and Claudio Abbado's various recordings for DG. All three are sober and humanized compared to larger, more outward or hysterical music-making.
 

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This is probably repeating lots of others, and might not add anything, but here is my $0.02.

Based on my Haitink, Bernstein I & II, Chailly, Bertini, Kubelik, Tennstedt, Boulez, Abbado (nearly all symphonies), Tilson Thomas (nearly all, again) cycles, there is not a single one that I consistently prefer. Moreover, some symphonies I listen to only rarely, so I am not sure my view on a whole cycle should count anyway.

That said, I will typically opt for Haitink, a conductor who I always enjoy. And Boulez because of the clarity and detail (to me). But I can occasionally choose Bernstein if I want emotional drama. Chailly's Mahler never really excites me. I once saw Chailly's Mahler described as (something like) "Mahler as dressage". That feels apt - it might be beautiful but it lacks emotional drive for me. I am ashamed to say that I have never really listened to Bertini and I rarely reach for Tilson Thomas these days, also.

If I really had to choose a cycle (which would not be nice to have to do), it would probably be Haitink or Boulez.
 

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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.
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
Agreed, Karajan's 6th is such an astounding recording, it has an overwhelming energy and incredible emotional intensity, but it is also very introspective and thoughtful when needed; the orchestral timbres stand out accurately and they are always well handled, as well as dynamics, phrasing and tempi; besides the powerful, passionate element is never too exaggerated, because it is perfectly balanced by a great beauty of the sound. It may sound different compared to other recordings, but it doesn't give an annoying impression, I concur about that. I'm the opposite and I would recommend it as a first choice; but maybe the very very first one would be Bernstein.
Yes, he only recorded the 4th, 5th, the 6th, the 9th twice and Das Lied von der Erde, without counting the Lieder; I like his Das Lied very much, it is my favourite along with the Haitink. I don't know Jurowski's recording, I'll look for it if I have the chance.
 

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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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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.
Precisely! There are so different takes on the Mahler symphonies that for me they are even artistically different entities. Who is to say what is the definite version? For example, Bernstein´s 2nd is very far indeed from Jurowski´s 2nd.

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?
 

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..... only one never seems to get an airing (Gergiev's cycle, which I not only find brash, but I am also unhappy to listen to anything produced by Putin's little rentboy)
Hahaha. It is "brash" and a bit unsubtle, CnC, and it's certainly a ragged cycle but there are a few very good recordings in there (I really like his 6th and especially his 7th). The biggest problem with that cycle isn't Gergiev's fault but the poor acoustic of the Barbican which is flat. On a few of my discs the volume is a bit low too.
 

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It's not a complete cycle but SWR Classic released a set of Rosbaud's recording of Mahler symphonies and Das Lied von der Erde (the 7th was previously released by Wergo, powerful performance. The 5th with Kölner Rundfunk-Sinfonie Orchester was previously released by ICA, which I think is fairly well-known and widely praised). Not my favourite (which would be Boulez/Gielen/Neumann), just thought I should mention it.

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I think I have more than 10 favourite cycles!
At the moment I’d narrow it down to:

Tennstedt
Sinopolii
Boulez
Bernstein (NYP)
Bertini
 
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Skimming through it seems that no one has yet to mention Dimitri Mitropoulos; one of the few Mahler champions before Leonard Bernstein made it fashionable. The Mitroupoulos/Mahler cycle on the following box set is incomplete (no 2nd, 4th, or DLVDE):

Gustav Mahler, Dmitri Mitropoulos, Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra, WDR  Radio Orchestra Cologne, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Vienna State Opera  Choir - Mahler: Symphonies Nos. 1, 3, 5, 6, 8, 9, & 10 - Unfinished -  Amazon.com Music


The above set includes an abridged recording of the 3rd that is not as outstanding as the one that Mitroupoulos recorded in Europe shortly before his death:

Stream Dimitri Mitropoulos - Mahler- Symphony No.3 [1st movement] by  ICAClassics | Listen online for free on SoundCloud


Mitropoulos' take on Mahler is very sincere, enthusiastic, and free: wonderful; despite the limitations of antiquated sound technology. Given the friendship between Mitropoulos and Bernstein, I often wonder if Mitropoulos, who died in 1961, was the inspiration behind Bernstein's first Mahler cycle.

Dimitri Mitropoulos flanked by Herbert Von Karajan and Leonard Bernstein:

Herbert von Karajan - Herbert von Karajan, Dimitri Mitropoulos and Leonard  Bernstein in Salzburg in 1959. | Facebook
 

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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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Then there is the Maurice Abravanel who (I think) did the SECOND complete Mahler cycle after Bernstein. Abravanel brought Mahler and old Vienna to the heart of the American West, Mormon country, as the conductor of the second (or third?) rate Utah Symphony Orchestra. Some may call it Mahler on a budget. While not on the same tier as Bernstein/New York, Solti/Chicago, or the many recordings made with the Concertgebouw, or the London, Vienna or Berlin Philharmonic Orchestras; Abravanel and the Utah band can hold their own, playing with great sincerity, and effort; a great Mahler cycle for those who enjoy cheering for the underdog!

G. Mahler, Utah Symphony Orchestra, Maurice de Abravanel - Mahler, G. :  Symphonies 1-9 - Amazon.com Music

popsike.com - #HEAR# VANGUARD COMPLETE MAHLER CYCLE ABRAVANEL UTAH SYMPHONY  STEREO 16 LPs - auction details
 

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Then there is the Maurice Abravanel who (I think) did the SECOND complete Mahler cycle after Bernstein. Abravanel brought Mahler and old Vienna to the heart of the American West, Mormon country, as the conductor of the second (or third?) rate Utah Symphony Orchestra. Some may call it Mahler on a budget. While not on the same tier as Bernstein/New York, Solti/Chicago, or the many recordings made with the Concertgebouw, or the London, Vienna or Berlin Philharmonic Orchestras; Abravanel and the Utah band can hold their own, playing with great sincerity, and effort; a great Mahler cycle for those who enjoy cheering for the underdog!

View attachment 179162
popsike.com - #HEAR# VANGUARD COMPLETE MAHLER CYCLE ABRAVANEL UTAH SYMPHONY  STEREO 16 LPs - auction details

I bought that box years many years ago ago at a drugstore for FL 10. about 4 euro

 
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