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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 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.
Stewart Crowe.
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[hint: for ease of navigation, read the review though to the end, then come back and click on the links.]

The CBS Bernstein/NYPO Mahler cycle on CD,
Four different remasterings:
-- 1) 1980s: Full-price CBS CDs = individual CDs, not in a box.
-- 2) 1992: "Royal Edition" = individual CDs, not in a box.
I don't know who did the remastering.
-- 3) 2001: "Bernstein Century Edition" = individual CDs, also released in a box: Mahler: The Complete Symphonies ~ Bernstein,
remastering engineers: Charles Harbutt, Ellen Fitton, Miguel Kertsman, maybe others.
-- 4a) 2009: "Carnegie Hall Presents" - Mahler: Complete Symphonies (Carnegie Hall Presents),
remastered by Andreas K. Meyer
-- 4b) 2012: The box under discussion,
this is an "original jacket" reissue of the 2009 remastering by Andreas K. Meyer.

Critical consensus is that the Andreas K. Meyer remastering (24-bit/96kHz) is an enormous improvement over the first three.
It was originally prepared for SACD release, but those Japanese SACDs are very expensive
- in the Amazon search bar look up "Bernstein Mahler SACD"

Meyer's CD remastering is available in version 4a or 4b.
There is a slight difference in contents:
-- 4a) The 2009 "Carnegie Hall Presents" version included the audio documentary "Gustav Mahler Remembered" and Das Lied von der Erde.
-- 4b) The 2013 box (reviewed on this page) omitted those two, but added Janet Baker's 1975 Kindertotenlieder.

Advantage 4a (2009) = "Gustav Mahler Remembered" (48 minutes) is a very well-done documentary (a 22 minute version can be found in the Kaplan Mahler Edition - see below).
Alternatively, the 48 minute version is also on YouTube.
See my comment dated July 13, 2015 for the web link.
(Meyer's CD remastering of Das Lied von der Erde is available separately at low cost.)

Advantage 4b (2013) = Less expensive, and packaged in "original jacket" format for the first time.
Attractive and nostalgic for geezers like me.
(plus Meyer's remastering of Janet Baker's 1975 Kindertotenlieder is very expensive outside of box 4b.)

Disadvantage 4b (2013) = No texts or translations for Symphonies 2, 3 and 8 in the 32 page booklet (the "Carnegie Hall Edition" has them).
This may not matter for experienced Mahler collectors.
Texts and translations for Symphony 4 and Kindertotenlieder are on the back of the "original jacket" in fine print (Kindertotenlieder is on the jacket for Symphony 5).

The additional works are available separately:

-- "Gustav Mahler Remembered"
Documentary by William Malloch.
There is a 22 minute version of this documentary in: The Kaplan Mahler Edition: Symphony No. 2 in C minor- Resurrection
If you don't already have it, The Kaplan Mahler Edition is an indispensible purchase (cheap too).
Not just for the performances, but for all the extra stuff that comes with it.
The 48 minute version is on YouTube. See my comment dated July 13, 2015 for the web link.
The absolutely unabridged version of "Gustav Mahler Remembered" is 106 minutes, 28 seconds - in
New York Philharmonic: The Mahler Broadcasts 1948-1982 .

-- The Andreas K. Meyer remastering of Das Lied von der Erde was reissued in 2010 as an inexpensive single CD:
Mahler: Das Lied Von Der Erde

-- Meyer's remastering of Janet Baker's 1975 Kindertotenlieder on SACD: Mahler: Symphony No.10-Adagio & Kinde

P.S. Andreas K. Meyer is not finished working his remastering magic on Bernstein's CBS legacy.
He is also responsible for the new Bernstein Sibelius edition:
Bernstein Sibelius - Remastered
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on 29 April 2012
I've lived with these recordings since they were first issued - that's over 40 years ago!

I have enjoyed and been enriched by many other recordings of these marvellous symphonies. I have a very deep appreciation of the recorded Mahler performances of Sir John Barbirolli, Otto Klemperer and Bruno Walter. In my experience there are few if any later conductors who command the authority, experience and wisdom that that golden generation brought to these works.

As a complete set I consider this first (CBS, New York) Bernstein set to be possibly more satisfying than any other - there are no weak links, only some that maybe a little stronger than some of the others (I'm thinking of the second, third, sixth and eighth as the high points)

(Of course this is not a complete set - Bernstein sadly did not accept the Cooke performing version of the tenth. A great pity, for had he conducted that effective version there can be no doubt that he would have projected its wonders with exactly the right spirit.)

I would emphasise that I am recommending this as a (sort of) 'complete' set (excepting the tenth). I would not want to be without the excellencies of James Levine's (incomplete) set - a set lacking the second and eighth.

A satisfying set, beautifully presented, well recorded (although the spotlighting is not ideal) and at a very attractive price!
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on 1 May 2012
Leonard Bernstein was the supreme interpreter of Mahler, and these are his earlier recordings from the 1960s, but what recordings they are! The New York Philharmonic was at its peak, and these are all absolutely thrilling performances. Despite their age, the recordings are of exceptional, indeed, astonishing quality. The discs are beautifully packaged in replicas of the original sleeves, and the discs themselves have the livery of the CBS records of the time. My only criticism is that the sleeve notes are too small to read without a magnifying glass. There is, though, a very good booklet included. If you like Mahler, this is an essential purchase, and at an absolute bargain price.
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on 16 November 2012
I need to thank the music lovers who recommended these recordings. I am without proper education in any matter, and certainly no expert in classical recordings, but having heard one of Mahler's symphonies played at the Birmingham Symphony Hall I just wanted to hear more. This set is one of the best investments I have ever made and I shall always be grateful to those of you whose recommendations I followed.
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Leonard Bernstein's New York cycle of Mahler Symphonies was a landmark. It was the first released commercial recording of all Mahler Symphonies (excluding the Tenth) and perhaps, Bernstein's greatest recording achievement from his New York period. These recordings are also important in my appreciation of Mahler. I was given them many years ago on LP. As I replaced them with CDs, I bought the symphonies individually, often from Bernstein's later DG cycle Mahler: The Symphonies as it unfurled.

The LPs suffered from CBS then habit of keeping microphones too close to the orchestra which created a harsh sound. This Sony remastering has cleared this up giving a cleaner, more natural sound which makes the orchestral detail so much clearer, showing just subtle Bernstein was in this area even his approach was dramatic. Each CD is in a reproduction of original LP sleeves, though reading them is difficult without a magnifying glass. There's also a booklet with photographs of Bernstein at the time, plus essay exploring his close, if idiosyncratic, identification with Mahler. My one complaint with this set is that there is no libretto for some of the Symphonies. That said, at bargain price, this set is an attractive package, not least because the performances are outstanding. I rate them as follows:

-No.1 (5 Stars). The New York performance is brilliant and charismatic, though, astonishingly, Bernstein's later DG performance (Mahler: Symphony 1) is even better (the best I've ever heard).
-No.2 (5 Stars). My LPs had a fine, later, performance with the LSO. But the one here with the New York Philharmonic is more spontaneous. Bernstein's best recording of the work.
-No.3 (5 Stars) remains my favourite performance of the work.
-No.4 (4 Stars) I have felt Bernstein's approach to this symphony needed more lightness of touch. The remastering corrects this. Bernstein also has female singer which works better than the boy soprano in the latter DG recording.
-No.5 (3 Stars). This performance is OK, but it's completely superseded by the later DG recording Mahler: Symphony No.5 with the Vienna Philharmonic. One of the few recordings in this set one can say this about.
-No.6 (5 Stars). Possibly the best recording of this set. Tighter and more intense than Bernstein's later one Symphony No.6, Kindertotenlieder again with the Vienna Philharmonic, which is saying something. Though I wouldn't want to be without either.
-No.7 (5 Stars). Bernstein holds this schizophrenic work together as well as anyone, if not better. The later version was a fine performance, but the generally faster tempi in this version have more dramatic tension and so give the earlier performance the edge.
-No.8 (5 Stars). I know no version of this symphony that is so physically exciting, Though I love ones by Solti and Tennstdet this one is nore organic than either as far as I'm concerned.
-No.9 (5 Stars). The New York performance is less idiosyncratic than the later DG set, though I also have a strong partiality for Bernstein's Berlin Mahler: Symphony No.9 which is available separately.
-No.10 (4/5 Stars). Bernstein only ever conducted the Adagio from No.10. From the performance here, one can only wonder what he might have made of the work as a whole.
-Kindertotenlieder (5 stars). As a "filler" to go with the Adagio from the 10th Symphony there is a wonderful performance of this song cycle with the great mezzo Janet Baker.

Coming back to these performances, I have been pleasantly surprised at just how outstanding these recordings are. The enhancement of the sound works in their favour. Though there are great recordings in Bernstein's later DG cycle, the earlier performances are often more exiting, hence I rate more of them higher. Indeed, with two exceptions, I would go as far as to say none of the later recordings supersedes what is here. I would be more than content if this New York cycle remains my sole recording of Mahler's Symphonies.

The obvious drawback of this set, as with those by great Mahler conductors of the same generation (e.g. Haitink, Kubelik, Solti and Tenstedt) is the need to purchase a separate disk for a complete version of No 10. Despite Deryck Cooke's "completion" of the work being more authentically the composer than in many similar projects, these conductors strangely refused to perform it. Simon Rattle's brilliant Berlin performance of Mahler: Symphony No.10 shows there is no longer any excuse for this, and is my recommendation to supplement this omission. None of this, however, should detract from the achievement here: it's an outstanding monument to Bernstein's conducting and well as Mahler's music.
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on 16 June 2015
A quick "double take" It's Bernstein's classic CBS Mahler cycle being given away for peanuts! To add insult to injury, Sony/CBS have been so kind as to provide the original cover art for this release... talk about rubbing salt into the wound! And then the knock-out blow! The set retails at £20! Some three or four years ago I paid approximately £70 for the "Carnegie Hall" edition of Bernstein's CBS cycle... no cover art!

If only Warner/EMI would see sense and release Karajan's back catalogue with cover art.
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on 4 August 2014
A match made in heaven: Mahler, the brilliant romantic iconoclast whose genius in orchestration was scorned by the Nazis and neglected by European orchestras; and Bernstein, the brilliant romantic interpreter who identified himself with Mahler's 'neurotic intensity' and uncovered the twentieth-century heart of these ten symphonies, whose lyrical, emotional, and ironic extremes exploded the conventions of symphonic composition. This collection of the complete symphonies, recorded in the sixties with the New York Philharmonic (with the exception of No. 8, recorded with the LSO) represents one of the finest available: others being Bernstein's second series (for Deutsche Grammophon in the eighties with the NYPO, the Vienna Philharmonic and the Amsterdam Concertgebouw), and Riccardo Chailly's set for Decca with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and the RSO Berlin. But this first, freshest excursion into Mahler's symphonic cycle brings to life, possibly more than any other, all of the passion and genius of both composer and conductor.
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on 13 February 2015
I have been very loyal to Bernard Haitink's interpretation of Mahler's symphonies for many, many years. So sorry Bernard, I was wrong. Having just purchased this Bernstein set I'm afraid you are eclipsed. This really is perfect Mahler. Phrasing, tempi, name it, it just doesn't get better than this. Where have I been !!!!
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on 9 August 2015
This is arguably the best collection of Mahler symphonies conducted by the man who brought Mahler's music to the forefront of 20th century listening. These all sound fresh and vital, presented as mini-LPs together with an informative booklet, and all at a bargain price. I highly recommend this wonderful collection.
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