Over the past few years I've been fortunate to hear superb performances of Mahler's song cycles, including "Wunderhorn-Lieder" and "Das Lied von der Erde" by soloists with piano accompaniment at the Austrian Cultural Forum New York. Regrettably, this 1976 recording of most of "Wunderhorn-Lieder" isn't nearly as memorable as these free live concerts that I've attended. As one other reviewer so aptly noted, John Shirley-Quirk sounds awful, while Jessye Norman seems more interested in singing Mahler as if it was composed by Richard Wagner for his "Ring" operatic cycle, than in emphasizing Mahler's intentions for these scores. The only redeeming aspect of this recording is the Concertgebouw's rich, glorious sound, in a no-nonsense interpretation from that great Mahlerian, conductor Bernard Haitink itself.
In stark contrast to "Wunderhorn-Lieder", Haitink's glowing, glistening account of the Mahler 9th symphony, recorded back in the mid 1960s with the Concertgebouw Orchestra, remains the best reason to acquire this CD (Though potential customers might consider instead its coupling with Haitink's interpretation of "Das Lied von der Erde" in the Philips Duo series, and yes, this seems to be a bad marketing decision on Philips's part to have the same performance available on two current releases.). Haitink's Mahler 9th is crisp, tautly directed, without the excessive emotionalism that characterizes Bernstein's interpretations. It may be stylistically closest to Boulez's recent Deutsche Grammophon recording, but Haitink's interpretation isn't devoid of emotion; a criticism that is often cited by those acquainted with Boulez's Mahler symphony recordings. Without question, this fine recording of the Mahler 9th symphony still remains one of the finest available.