Top positive review
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A set of historical and musical importance restored to glorious new lights-THE top ecommendation? It's a candidate!
on 28 January 2013
If the Decca Solti Ring changed the course of modern stereo recording and set the agenda for many years, then this set of recordings made throughout the 1960s changed the course of not just recording but the programming and balance of musical performance for the last half of the Twentieth Century until today. It is not true that there had been no post war recordings or performances of Mahler's music, but they were few and far between and mostly came about to accommodate the wishes of major figures such as Walter and Klemperer, but there were sporadic outbursts of Mahler recordings and I fondly recall Mono only recordings by Kletzki, Leopold Ludwig, Kubelik with the VPO no less, Charles Adler and Felix Prohaska. Solti also conducted Mahler One with VPO in 1961 in Salzburg, but in the mid 60's a critical battle was raging as to whether the symphonies were the banal doodling of a first rate conductor but a tenth rate composer, or masterpieces by an eccentric genius. Grove's Dictionary still listed them as "of little musical worth."
Bernstein was the ideal conduit to bring these works to a wide audience, with his public persona as a "media figure", and his frequent appearances on TV, where he was an excellent communicator and who attracted an audience as much for his huge success as a popular composer with hits such as "Maria" and Somewhere" being recorded by a gaggle of popular artists.
The resonances between Bernstein and Mahler were obvious-a Jewish Composer/Conductor, Music Director of the NYPO and a master of Schmaltz-and Angst. Some commentators suggested that "Lenny" might even be the reincarnation of Mahler, a proposition Lenny did not exactly dismiss!
The success of these recordings opened the floodgates and enabled concert promoters to fill halls for Mahler, and record companies to record Mahler with the certainty it would sell in droves. The rest is history.
Returning to these recordings has been not just a visit to old friends, but a revelation. I had forgotten how "classical" Lenny's approach to these works had been, and I can say that with the exception of 5 and 6 and the BPO 9, I prefer ALL these reading to his later ones, where self restraint was often replaced by self indulgence.
The NYPO was a crack band in the 60's, with many veteran expat European players and which had been drilled by Artur Rodzinzski into a truly world class orchestra. They responded to Bernstein in this music as if they had been playing it all their lives. The problem was always the recordings, which were thin, muddy and boxy and were improved only marginally by re-mastering for CD-until now.
This set has been newly re-mastered by Andreas Meyer into DSD format, and the results are little short of miraculous. What was previously somewhat of a gritted teeth exercise is now an open mouthed one, as the detail, richness and sonic splendour unfolds as never before.
The result is that this set at its paltry price becomes a MUST HEAR for all lovers of Mahler, all admirers of Bernstein and anyone seeking to explore Mahler's symphonies anew. Even those like me who have had some or all of these recordings in previous releases will enjoy a completely new experience with these recordings, and I can express nothing but admiration for this enterprise. If I had to single out any examples for particular praise, it would be No.'s 3 and 7, and 5 is not a dud as described in another review,with a particularly fizzing and angry second movement. As has been the practice with others in this series, the original LP covers and record labels are reproduced, there is a basic booklet and the dates and venues of the recordings are listed. There is available still a bargain box of his later DG recordings, which makes a perfect companion and gives a wonderful perspective on both the music and the conductor. However, if it's a choice between the two, this is now the one to buy (and I would advise supplementing it with the live BPO M9).
A truly important document brought back to a glorious light. Unlimited stars.