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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Finally - lovers of Levine's Mahler are spoilt for choice, 13 Oct. 2011
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This review is from: Mahler: Symphony No. 2 ( Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra / Levine 1989 Salzburg Festival) (Audio CD)
Given that devotees of Levine's Mahler have had to make to with his excellent but incomplete bargain RCA box set from the 70's, we have since been on the look-out for supplementary recordings of the "Resurrection" and the "Symphony of a Thousand". These have now been forthcoming: two live recordings of the former both from 1989 and for the latter a download of limited availability of the recording of one of the more recent Boston concerts.

Fellow-reviewer and co-admirer of Levine's Mahler Stewart Crowe details in his fine and enthusiastic review why he so admires this performance and is of the opinion that it eclipses his Israeli version. While I agree with and endorse virtually everything he says in his review, I am not so sure that one is clearly better than the other; in fact I see them in parity.

Timings and interpretation are very similar indeed - hardly surprising for two live recordings made within a few months of each other. Both share Christa Ludwig who, it seems to me, is either slightly better recorded or in marginally better voice in February for the Israeli recording and both have excellent soprano soloists although Kathleen Battle has a more shimmering, glamorous star-quality to her voice for Levine in Salzburg. The sound in Israel is richer and fuller but afflicted by a hiss, for all that it is a digital recording; however, the Salzburg recording has been made at too low a volume and is rather distant in comparison but still crisp and defined when you crank it up a bit.

Surprisingly, there is not so much to choose between the VPO, one of the world's premier outfits, and the Israeli band who play as if their lives depended on it. Mr Crowe has remarked upon a few blats and blips in the Salzburg brass but the Israelis have more flaws in their intonation. There is greater transparency and subtlety in the Vienna sound but the Israelis manage to create great warmth and heft. Both choirs are superb. I agree that the cumulative tension of the last movement is perhaps better paced and slightly more mysterious in Salzburg but on both occasions Levine creates magic and his audience respond with wild applause.

I have come to the assumption that some of the small determined clique of Levine-bashers derive their anitpathy for him from the fact that they are also Karajan-haters and Levine was one of the few conductors he admired and advanced. More fools they; they are allowing an irrational, unaesthetic prejudice to deprive themselves of a proper appreciation of a truly great Mahler conductor.
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Showing 1-10 of 16 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 14 Oct 2011, 11:54:08 BST
D. S. CROWE says:
Ralph is absolutely spot on in pointing out that these recordings are complementary-they are sufficiently different in aural characer to mean that one does not automatically supplant the other, and similar enough in interpretation to ensure a great experience from both-we are lucky to have this dual overview. However, if I were forced to relinquish one it would be the IPO recording-the extra commitment and beauty , unique sound of the Vienna band and the soloists make this my preferred version. I pointed out in a posting to my own review that Karajan had died only 4 weeks earlier at his home in Anif near Salzburg, and bearing in mind his relationship with Levine to which Ralp alludes and of course with the VPO, I cannot help but feel that this imbued this performance with an added emotional commitment which to me at least is palpable.
As ever, the ideal solution is to have them both, but the Orfeo is " hors concours" for me if the budget is tight. Whichever recording you choose (or both!), it confounds the irrational prejudices of the anti-Levine KKK, and might I suggest you try his Ofreo 1981 Salzburg Tales of Hoffmann if you want to hear conducting perfection-it IS that good! Regards As ever, SC

In reply to an earlier post on 14 Oct 2011, 23:22:47 BST
[Deleted by the author on 19 Apr 2012, 14:37:33 BST]

In reply to an earlier post on 14 Oct 2011, 23:47:09 BST
Ralph Moore says:
On balance, I would agree that the VPO is preferable but as I try to explain, the Israeli recording has its strengths, too. Although, as Benedick says, " A man loves the meat in his youth that he cannot endure in his age", and I have come round to certain things, I cannot say I have either lost many of my first musical loves or experienced that many conversions. I'm pretty sure I will never be reconciled to the voice of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau or Bostridge, or anything conducted by Norrington but I have learned to appreciate certain singers whom I originally disliked and in fact remember finding Mahler "galumphing" and unpalatable even in my early twenties, whereas now I am a Mahler nut. I do not understand how anyone could hear Levine's Mahler as "sedate"; they strike me as grand and impassioned. There is also the danger of adopting a dogma which says "The VPO is matchless in Mahler" then not being receptive to any other interpretation - not that I necessarily accuse you of that, but I try to greet, meet and treat a new recording on its merits.

Best regards,


In reply to an earlier post on 15 Oct 2011, 02:05:59 BST
[Deleted by the author on 19 Apr 2012, 14:37:43 BST]

In reply to an earlier post on 15 Oct 2011, 11:26:40 BST
Ralph Moore says:
Thank you, Jeremy, for the clarification; in my eagerness to defend Levine I think I mistook your meaning. Now you've forced me to admit that you're probably right about the VPO and Mahler - and yes, I often love Solti's versions, especially his 1st with the LSO and his 7th and 8th with the Chicago. But then, as you know from my review of Tennstedt's Mahler set, that conductor claimed that the LPO were "the best orchestra for Mahler in the world" - hyperbole? We are blessed with an abundance of great Mahler recordings, no?

Thanks for kind words.

My, you were up late...

In reply to an earlier post on 15 Oct 2011, 13:58:43 BST
[Deleted by the author on 19 Apr 2012, 14:37:59 BST]

Posted on 20 Oct 2011, 23:42:32 BST
OperaLover says:
James Levine was a protege of George Szell. I have followed Levine since the very early 70's and have read voluminously about his career and training. Perhaps I missed the fact that he was a protege of Karajan. How? Where? When?

In reply to an earlier post on 21 Oct 2011, 08:19:01 BST
Last edited by the author on 21 Oct 2011, 15:00:11 BST
Ralph Moore says:
I overstate my case somewhat with the word "protege" but it could have been only with Karajan's approval that Levine was invited in 1976 to muscle in on Karajan territory and henceforth regularly conduct at "his" festival, Salzburg - and also to share the podium directing the BPO. Levine's association with Karajan was close until the latter's death in 1989. He was widely tipped to succeed him as principal conductor of the BPO. Few other conductors enjoyed Karajan's favour.

In reply to an earlier post on 21 Oct 2011, 10:37:43 BST
D. S. CROWE says:
Greetings. You are certainly right in observing that Levine was in fact Szell's protege.
In my own review I refer to him being in Karajan's "camp" (no pun intended)!
Karajan had autonomy over who conducted the BPO, and virtual autonomy over who conducted at Salzburg (he couldn't keep Bohm out). He had a dedicated coterie of "acolytes" comprising Dohnanyi , who was his musical assistant in the preparation of his Ring cycle and the specially created Easter Festival, Maazel, Ozawa and Levine.
Occasional permits were granted to Giulini (whom K really admired) and Mehta(novelty value?). This was a great boost to these artists' careers-but also worked against them in that they became targets for the anti-K lobby.
In the last sad days of Karajan's breakdown with the BPO, he tried to engineer an exit "package" whereby he could nominate his successor, and he made it known that it was Levine. This concession was never granted-Abbado wasn't even on the horizon for this post, but with the perversity surrounding K's acrimonious departure, it was NEVER going to be Levine. I stopped listening to the BPO for a long time afterwards as a protest at their treatment of Karajan-I'm sure they were distraught at that! Apparently the orchestra's first choice was Kleiber, but he didn't want to know. In the last year of his life K had a rapprochement with Bernstein and Solti-indeed Solti spoke to him on the phone on the day K died. This M2 was conducted only a few weeks after Karajan's death, in 89 (not 88), and it may be that the intensity which I feel permeates this marvellous reading is added to as a result. Best Regards, Stewart Crowe

In reply to an earlier post on 21 Oct 2011, 15:05:21 BST
Ralph Moore says:
Sorry - typo in his year of death: '89 indeed. So my comment on the nature of their relationship is not wrong, I hope. Thanks for the detail, Stewart; very interesting.

OperaLover, presumably you were aware of this and would not necessarily disgree, excepting that my us of the word "protege" was perhaps ill-chosen?
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