I've been always curious, but reluctant to buy this set, partly due to the misleading criticism by the Japanese critic Kyo Mitsutoshi, a part of which I read before. In his overly poetic commentary, he describes Bertini as a classicist who values beauty above all and whose interpretation is somewhat reserved, as opposed to the conductors like Bernstein, Solti and Tennstedt who placed much emphasis on contrasting emotional expression. I can not disagree more after listening to it. There is nothing reserved or classical about Bertini's readings. Take for example the outrageously bold and impassioned reading of Adagietto from 5th, which out do Tennnstedt's famous Royal Festival Hall live account or the overwhelmingly powerful treatment of the first movement of 3rd , which out do Bernstein. In fact, fascination of Bertini lies in that he can not be classified in any category. The conductor apparently possesses enormous reverence for Mahler's music and that comes across in every performance. You can not fully appreciate real richness and intricacy of Mahler's orchestration until you listen to these recordings.
Symphony No.1 (Live in Tokyo, 1991) A beautifully crafted performance which is near perfect and filled with many breath taking moments of beauty and inspiration.
Symphony No.2 (1991, Köln) This towering performance can stand alone for its unparalleled power of expression and other worldly beauty. The way brass and percussion explode in the first movement is absolutely terrifying. Bertini achieves maximum impact of each outburst in all movements without much exaggeration, but by masterful control of tempi and ebb and flow of the music. The build-up to the climax is full of revelatory moments and nothing short of awe inspiring. The final apotheosis is overwhelmingly powerful with organ, chorus, and percussions playing prominent roles. First movement is on disc 1, separated from the rest.
Symphony No.3 (1985, Köln) This is definitely the outstanding performance among the likes of Abbado, Horenstein, Bernstein, Levine, Haitink and Kubelik. First movement is extremely powerful and bold with almost apocalyptic edge and with pauses employed most effectively to create great sense of suspense. String sound literally flowers in the second movement; exquisite playing by wind instruments and brass played with amazing boisterousness in the third movement. Last movement is simply awe inspiring. I've never come across performance of such depth and sublime beauty.
Symphony No.4 (1987, Köln) Another revelatory performance, filled with details you've never heard before and most beautiful strings playing. The slow movement is deeply elegiac and masterfully controlled. The last movement is wonderfully vivid and boisterous with Lucia Popp's ethereal singing finely balanced with the orchestra. Placing the last movement on other disc is unforgivable stupidity!
Symphony No.5 (1990, Köln) This performance proves that it is nonsense to say Bertini's interpretation is reserved - in fact this is one of the most violent and intensely felt account of 5th I've ever known. Adagietto is outrageously boldly phrased and played with overwhelming passion. It is hard to imagine more powerful and moving account. The last movement is simply sublime. Thankfully fit into one disc.
Symphony No.6 (1984, Köln) This is not the best performance in the cycle, however there are many revelatory moments and admirable effects. The slow movement is beautifully played, but somehow fails to capture the inner drive and grandeur the great music deserves. Overall impact of the last movement is rather weak as the music suffers from too much slowing down in wrong places.
Symphony No.7 (1990, Köln) Under Bertini's baton the most elusive and grotesque of Mahler symphonies is transformed into a rich tapestry of orchestral colours and instrumental characterisation, and the music becomes more approachable. He draws magical sound from woodwinds, strings and mandolin. Fit in one disc.
Symphony No.8 (Live in Tokyo, 1991) Another outstanding and splendid recording. Part 1 is amazingly sumptuous with choir and soloists taking the centre stage, although it suffers from overly melodramatic singing by soloists, placed too close to microphone and even intrusive at times. Part 2 is expansively paced throughout, and there are many awe inspiring moments, especially in the build up to the finale. Very slowly paced final apotheosis is not the most overwhelming on record, but massive and glorious to conclude the epic journey. Fit into one disc.
Symphony No.9 (Live in Tokyo, 1991) Another awe inspiring performance - words just fail to describe the sheer sumptuousness of the music making and magical beauty of sounds, not to mention the very profound and incandescent account of the last movement.
Symphony No.10 (1991, Köln)Another beautifully crafted performance with exquisite detail. It's a great shame, Bertini did not record Cooke's completed version!
Das Lied von der Erde (Live in Tokyo, 1991) In this work, you can really appreciate Bertini's amazing ability to let music blossom freely in ever exquisite colours and nuances. Tenor, Ben Heppner, sings brilliantly with very pleasant, youthful sort of voice. Mezzo, Marjana Lipovsek, has just right sort of warm and deep voice, and her singing never intrudes on the music, while expressing its poetry with real feeling and understanding. Der Abschied is deeply moving. On one disc.
The awe inspiring account of 2nd, 3rd, 9th alone makes this set a must-buy, but together with very impressive 1st, 4th, 5th, 7th, 8th, 10th and Das Lied, the price is just ridiculous! The sound quality in every recording is incredibly realistic and broad. With decent speakers it's almost like sitting in a concert hall. You need a soundproof room to realise full capacity of the recordings. Bertini's Mahler cycle is an amazing journey of discoveries.