It is all too easy to take Gustav Mahler's symphonies and orchestral songs for granted in the 21st century's first decade. More than ever before, concert performances and recordings of these works abound, and at a level of proficiency that reveals the remarkable extent to which musicians worldwide have assimilated the composer's idiom. Given the music's primacy in today's central orchestral repertoire, we forget how the great Mahler advocates of the past had to champion his music in the face of adversity. "Who can bear those monstrous symphonies, those over-blown, out-of-date horrors," asked one leading music critic when the New York Philharmonic launched a Mahler Festival to celebrate the composer's 1960 centenary.
When at last it was revealed what Mahler’s final intentions were regarding the ordering of the inner movements of his 6th Symphony, 90 years of theory, history, & performance practice went right out the window. For theorists, it altered the harmonic structure of Mahler’s A minor Symphony. For historians, it modified the meaning of Mahler’s “Tragic” Symphony. For players & conductors, it changed the musical progress of Mahler’s 6th Symphony. For listeners, it made Mahler’s deepest & darkest symphony even deeper & darker. With the achingly nostalgic Andante moderato now coming before the bitingly bitter Scherzo, the triumph of the opening Allegro energico sounds even more hollow & empty & the collapse of the closing Allegro moderato sounds even more final & total.
Fans of Gustav Mahler's joyous Symphony No. 4 in G major will relish this buoyant performance by Ivan Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra, featuring soprano Miah Persson, for it is wholly in keeping with the light tone and merry spirit of the score and is as delightful as any other recording on the market.
This is a reissue of Mahler performances delivered in Cologne in 1992 and 1993, and Thomas Quasthoff, just on the verge of international fame, was in phenomenal voice. The upper extension of his beautiful, expressive bass-baritone is thrilling, in perfect control. Artistically, he only grew stronger, as evidenced by his searing reading of 'Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen' under Boulez (DG), but this earlier interpretation comes close, and there's no comparison so far as vocalism is concerned. The WDR orchestra plays well under the rather prosaic leadership of the late Gary Bertini (a native Russian who emigrated to Palestine as a child in the 1930s)– both are good enough, and the recorded sound is excellent. In all, this is a shattering reading by Quasthoff that should be heard by every lover of Mahler.
You will probably be as incredulous as I was to learn that the greatest cycle of Mahler symphonies comes not from any of the usual suspects - Abbado, Bernstein, Chially, Haitink, Kubelik, Rattle, Sinopoli, Solti, Tennstedt - but from the unsung Gary Bertini, who spent the better part of his career as music director of the Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra. Unlike any of those more publicized sets, each of which includes a misfire or two, Bertini is consistently successful from first to last; his performance of each of these works can stand comparison with the very best available.
The musical reconstructions industry keeps gathering pace, but few works have attracted as much attention as Mahler's 10th Symphony. Joe Wheeler (who died in 1977) was a brass-playing British civil servant with a passion for Mahler. This completion (itself in an edition by the conductor here, Robert Olson) uses the leaner orchestration of the composer's later years. But does it sound Mahlerian? Certainly more so than Remo Mazzetti's 1997 version, but neither caps Deryck Cooke's acute sense of authentic detail and color in his legendary edition.