At last count there must be a dozen or more complete Mahler symphony cycles. For my money, however, only one captures the passion and emotionality of Mahler's intent, and that is this one - Leonard Bernstein's second (the first was recorded back in the 1960's and is worth a listen, though its compressed sound won't suit everyone).
Bernstein is at his best in the large-scale dramatic works 2,3,5,6 and 8. For me there is no more passionate 'Resurrection' (2) in the catalogue, the recording sounding fine and open, with perfectly judged balance. Christa Ludwig's 'Urlicht' is divine. Tempos are perhaps a little slower than many, but never does Bernstein commit Sinopoli's sin of losing track of the music!
'The symphony must be the whole world' is probably the most familiar quote of Mahler's and in Symphony 3, Mahler and Bernstein show us the world of love in all its forms. This is one to return to time and time again with a final movement that is breathtaking in its spirituality, the NYPO's playing flawless.
Number 6 is simply shattering - don't listen to this if you're feeling down, it's devastating!
The set is beautifully presented in three separate boxes representing the three phases of Mahler's compositional life, and well-documented. There is continuity of conductor, but the set consists of different orchestras, Bernstein's NYPO featuring in 2,3 and 7, but others including the VPO and the Concertgebouw.
Other versions suit those who prefer a 'dryer', less passionate, less idiosyncratic Mahler. For those who see his work as emotional outpourings, this set from Bernstein is the one.