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Gustav Mahler
Recommended Recordings



"What is best in music is not to be found in the notes."

Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde
(Performed by Alfreda Hodgson, John Mitchinson; B.B.C. Northern Symphony; Conducted by Jascha Horenstein)
"Das Lied von der Erde" tends to hold a special place in the hearts of Mahler lovers, and this newly released 1972 performance conducted by the late Jascha Horenstein holds a special place among recordings of the piece. This live performance, from Manchester on April 28, 1972, is the last performance of a Mahler work this noted Mahler specialist gave, and it enhances the piece's valedictory qualities. Apart from the fact that the playing is so fresh and unmannered, one finds it hard to believe that the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra is tackling the gargantuan work for the first time. And the fine vocal soloists, tenor John Mitchinson and mezzo-soprano Alfreda Hodgson, sing with uncommon involvement.

But it's Horenstein who amazes, with the second-longest performance on record, leaving no rose unsniffed. The three tenor songs are unusually spacious, but the beautiful "Farewell" cinches it.

Mahler: Des Knaben Wunderhorn
(Thomas Quasthoff, Anne Sofie von Otter; Berlin Philharmonic; Claudio Abbado, conductor)
In a year overflowing with great Mahler recordings, this song cycle managed to stand out, and is a welcome replacement for the currently out-of-print classic featuring Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. Thomas Quasthoff is one of the most fascinating singers to have emerged in recent years, a master of the lied in a time that increasingly lacks such artists, while von Otter is at her most radiant in portraying Mahler's songs of innocence and experience.

Mahler: Kindertotenlieder and Ruckert-Lieder
(Waltraud Meier, soprano; Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra; Lorin Maazel, conductor)
Mahler had a sense of foreboding upon composing this grieving song cycle--indeed not long afterward he experienced the loss of his own daughter. Waltraud Meier's performance is darkly shaded and reflects her customary sensitivity to both poetic and musical lines. These are also lovely accounts of the "Ruckert-Lieder," in particular of the transcendent "Ich bin der Welt," which breathes the same atmosphere as the Adagietto of Mahler's Fifth Symphony.

Mahler: Symphony No. 8
(London Symphony Orchestra; Jascha Horenstein, conductor)
Performing Mahler's "Symphony of a Thousand" is an enormous undertaking, made exponentially more difficult in 1959, when there were few reference recordings of the work and the composer was hardly in vogue. But Jascha Horenstein, conducting to a packed Royal Albert Hall, shows us the beauty of this work with a simple (if any performance requiring 750 players can be called "simple") but profound rendition of this glorious work. Forty years old, but a timeless classic recording.

Mahler: Symphony No.4
(Juliane Banse, soprano; the Cleveland Orchestra; Pierre Boulez, conductor)
There are numerous recordings of Mahler's 4th out there, but you've probably never heard one performed quite the way that Pierre Boulez and the Cleveland Orchestra do on this disc. Gone is the rampant emotionalism you'll find elsewhere, replaced with Boulez's quick tempos (at least in the opening) and a sly coolness that's somehow infectious. You may wonder what Boulez was thinking, but by the grand third movement, you'll be hooked. Boulez's modernist-inspired interpretations aren't for everybody, but this one is solid.

Symphony No. 5
(Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Benjamin Zander)
Conductor Benjamin Zander may only be at the beginning of his Mahler cycle for Telarc, but by the sounds of his latest recording, Mahler's Fifth Symphony with the Philharmonia Orchestra, he's off to a riveting start. This studio recording features great sonics, detailed playing, and sensible tempi. But, as with Zander's recording of Mahler's Ninth, the bonus disc--featuring the conductor-motivational speaker dissecting the symphony--makes this set a must-have for Mahler fans and newbies alike.

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