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The People’s Mahler / Mahler to the People

Universal, i.e. Deutsche Grammophon & Decca, are celebrating Mahler in style by opening their catalogue and archives to the vote, letting visitors of their “Create your Dream Mahler Symphony Cycle” website chose their favorite recordings of the 10 Mahler symphonies (Das Lied is not included, for some reason). The winners after the final tally will make it into a specially produced cycle (“Mahler, The People’s Edition”) which will be available for purchase.

Universal’s Mahler catalogue is huge, larger than any other company’s. Even without a few items* that, presumably for current licensing issues, are part of their archive but not among the choices, a really exciting cycle could be created. Could is the operating word here, because the worst case scenario is that where the People’s Edition merely mirrors the fame of recordings and ends up something where all included symphonies are already readily available, and/or are already in Universal’s big box “Mahler, Complete Edition”. That would be a terrific opportunity completely gone to waste.

Your vote—and you should vote—will therefore determine the difference between “Yawyn” and “Wowsers”. The difference between a cycle no one needs, because it just duplicates what we already have at home, or one that everyone will want to run out and grab. The key to that, apart from finding enough willing supporters of this idea, is to pick the most interesting, difficult-to-get, and out-of-print albums that DG/Decca offers us. Let’s not pick Kubelik’s Bavarian First, great though it is. Let’s definitely not pick Solti’s 8th, which will always be around and is in case a horrible, glorious, failure. Let’s not pick Abbado’s much touted, but completely pussy-footed 6th. Or Bernstein’s 5th, which has been re-released more often than I can count. I understand the tendency toward’s Mehta’s 2nd, but that, too, is readily enough available and a commonly (and rightly) well thought-of recording.

Together with a fellow Mahlerian a few semesters my senior, I looked at the possible choices and we came up with these suggestions:

available at Amazon
Sy.1, Kubelik / WPh
Symphony No.1: Kubelik – but with the Vienna Philharmonic; an older, 1954, Decca release. Long out of print, this is much more interesting and better played than the otherwise alluring Scherchen recording.

available at Amazon
Sy.2, Ozawa / BSO

Symphony No.2: There is no perfectly obvious contender, but we think that it’s time to bring Ozawa back out; his Mahler cycle with the Boston SO has been looked over for many years and there are gems among them. Not just the 8th, the best interpretation ever, but the Second, too, is supposed to be pretty good.

Symphony No.3: We weren’t able to find a candidate who really obviously needed or deserved the push; Haitink is available enough. I might vote for Abbado’s Berlin recording, but here, too, Ozawa could be interesting.

available at Amazon
Sy.4, Dohnanyi / ClevO
Symphony No.4: Something that only Cleveland Orchestra fans and patrons could easily get: Dohnanyi’s Cleveland Fourth with Dawn Upshaw is our tip.

available at Amazon
Sy.5, Kubelik / BRSO
Symphony No.5: Here we go with the recording from the Bavarian Kubelik cycle; his Fifth on DG is extraordinarily good, not available, and, in this particular case, much better than the live version available on Audite.

available at Amazon
Sy.6, Solti / CSO
Symphony No.6: A unusual choice for me: Solti and the CSO. Not available outside the Solti-Mahler box (which I could never recommend to anyone), this is actually a rip-roaring performance that yet still keeps within the classical parameters of the Sixth.

available at Amazon
Sy.7, Scherchen / WStOpOrch.
Symphony No.7: My favorite is Abbado’s Berlin performance, due to the Nachtmusik. But that can be had easily enough. So the interesting (oop) proposition would be the version with Scherchen with the (de facto) Vienna Philharmonic; allegedly dark and probably weird. The streaming samples on the site sound promising enough, even if the brass seems to take liberties.

available at Amazon
Sy.8, Ozawa / BSO
Symphony No.8: If this is the only way to get Ozawa’s miraculous Boston 8th back into the catalogue, so be it. Vote for it, indulge in it. There has never, before or after, been a Chorus Mysticus like it.

available at Amazon
Sy.9, Giulini / CSO
Symphony No.9: The tendency seems to go toward Giulini, which is fair enough. Sinopoli would also be a very good choice.

available at Amazon
Sy.10 (complete), Chailly / RIAS
Symphony No.10: If you want a complete 10th—and why not?—you’ll want to go for Chailly/RIAS which simply outclasses Harding & Vienna.

*Mengelberg’s Fourth, Neumann’s Leipzig Fifth (one of my current favorites)…

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