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Often Stunning Mahler Box From Bernstein That Can't Be Ignored.,
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This review is from: Mahler: Complete Symphonies and Orchestral Songs (Audio CD)
And why might one want to ignore it? Well, perhaps because of the way Bernstein is gratuitously presented on the front cover: the creator and the interpreter as equals? The slightly phoney attempt to divide the symphonies and songs into three thematic volumes, as if preoccupations with love and death didn't resonate throughout all Mahler's years. But these are superficial considerations. What really matters is the musicmaking.
Of the songs, you will get beautiful if slightly bland renditions of the Wayfarer and Ruckert cycles sung by Hampson, the wonderful old Decca recording of Das Lied from Vienna and featuring King and DFD in the tenor and baritone parts. That recording is of course the younger more impulsive Bernstein; by the time these DG remakes were set done, during the 1980s, he had become a more leisurely, indulgent, yet more insightful conductor-celebrator of Mahler's aesthetic. I thought the new Wunderhorn with Schmidt and Popp a delight. The reason you'll buy the box though is for the symphonies, so here goes...
Nos 1,4 and 5 famously improve on those interpretations that were lambasted as part of his 1960s drive to popularise Mahler amongst a more receptive public. The first two, with the RCO, are exciting readings but some may object to the use of a boy treble instead of the soprano in No.4. I didn't like it. I also didn't like the much praised Fifth, on tour with the VPO. For me, the third movement is just too slow, in fact it even stops at one point. The adagietto is also a bit of a drag at 11/12 mins. The Symphony No.6 is from Vienna and can't really be faulted, though it's not quite the miracle some make it out to be. For me, the Karajan version is better recorded and has more impact.
It has to be pointed out, Lennie is, like Barbirolli, a noisy conductor. He stamps, he groans, he sings, he moans, all likely to vex listeners who prefer to use headphones. The extraneous noise is only sporadic, but it does happen. Overall, the sound quality is excellent.
So what works? The First, despite some stage noise; the Second, Third and Seventh, all from New York and quite breathtaking. Some will find Bernstein's Resurrection more than a bit OTT, and in the wrong mood his indulgent ritardandi and exaggerated mannerisms render his interpretations somewhat camp. But the beauties to be savoured in all these performances are many and varied, so that one is inclined to forgive and try again with this most subjective of Mahlerians. There's no doubt he gets what he wants from his players.
The Eighth is almost identical to the DVD version from Vienna Mahler - Symphonies Nos. 7 and 8 (Bernstein, Wiener Po) [DVD]  and I have to say again that Lennie's Mahler for this VPO film cycle was at its finest. Both the DVD Ninth and the recently reissued Berlin Ninth Mahler: Symphony No.9 are superior to the RCO effortful one offered as part of this box. But I wouldn't want to be without these audio recordings of Nos 2, 3 and 7, plus the Das Lied and Wunderhorn cycles.
The ideal might be a combination of CDs and DVDs, but you probably won't regret purchasing this box and you can always complement it with some Mahler from other able conductors. Rattle, Abbado and Haitink are very different; MTT and Tennstedt closer to Lennie's example.