Mahler, oh yes!

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BuKiNisT
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Mahler, oh yes!

Post by BuKiNisT » Tue Aug 16, 2005 5:23 pm

His music never ceases to amaze me with its ability to pretend being simple and light-hearted - while seamlessly evolving into something of a true nigthmare - daunting, gut-wrenching and deeply moving. And all that without too much of a boom factor.

And this jarring contrast is exactly what makes the music so soulful and deep...

Formidable emotional range and great mastery of artistic resources...

Needless to say, i'm an admirer.
:)

Ralph
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Post by Ralph » Tue Aug 16, 2005 5:25 pm

And you're joined by many of us who deeply enjoy Mahler's works. I listen to at least one symphony recording a week, often more. Being in new York there's never a season without at least four concert performances of Mahler's music.

Today I listened to Mahler's First Symphony conducted by Karel Ancerl on the SUPRAPHON label (Ancerl edition).
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Barry
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Post by Barry » Tue Aug 16, 2005 5:28 pm

I rarely pass up an opportunity to hear a Mahler symphony in concert. It's great music to experience live.

I'm a bit more spotty when it comes to home-listening though. I really have to be in the mood for it, and I sometimes am not for long periods of time. Then I may go on a binge and listen to a bunch of Mahler recordings during a short period before that passes and I just wait for the next Mahler concert to come around. And since the Philadelphia Orchestra is in the midst of a five-year Mahler cycle, that's never extremely long.
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Post by Harvested Sorrow » Tue Aug 16, 2005 7:57 pm

I've got into Mahler in recent months, however, I love his work. Das Lied von Der Erde is actually the first cycle of songs I could get into with operatic vocals. :) I also love his symphonies.

jbuck919
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Post by jbuck919 » Tue Aug 16, 2005 9:41 pm

Having bared my soul on this board about almost everything short of the intimate details of my sex life, I am going to go out on a (mildly) dissident limb and admit that I have never gotten Mahler. I trust the bunch of you not to decide instantly that you hate me after all.

Believe me, I've tried. The same is true of Bruckner and, Lord help me, largely even Strauss. I don't want to claim that in 1897 Brahms died and music died with him. I still adore Debussy and a few others of that generation. This disease is seriously impeding my resolve to follow the Bamberg symphony this year (when last year I only caught the annual New Year performance of Beethoven's Ninth). Help me if you can folks; it is terrible to go through life this way.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

pizza
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Post by pizza » Wed Aug 17, 2005 12:21 am

There could be many reasons, including the matter of exposure. How much Mahler and Bruckner have you heard? Bruckner is a difficult case and can take quite a while to develop a liking for but once it happens, you're hooked. Live performances can make a positive difference in both cases and a mind that's capable of long periods of musical concentration is necessary.

Obviously not everyone likes the same music, nor does everyone's earlier tastes in music persist over the years. I used to go bonkers for Strauss when I was younger and now I rarely listen to any of his music; maybe Four Last Songs once in a great while but that's about it. Now I find his mainstream orchestral works technically superb but deficient in content. I don't know his operas well enough to even comment on them.

I wouldn't worry about it too much. There's lots of music to listen to besides the three composers you mention.

herman
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Post by herman » Wed Aug 17, 2005 3:34 am

Like many people I used to like Mahler a lot. I loved the emotional excesses and the gorgeous orchestration colors. It was - if you'll pardon my french - like sucking on a giant tit of sound.

As you may have guessed I pretty much got over it (as did many of my friends). I still think his orchestral songs are marvelous; the Ruckert Lieder, the Kindertotlieder and the LvdE. I have two recordings of the symphonies nr 4 and 7 and 9, and probably five of the LvdE, but I can't say I have listened to an entire recording in ten years. This type of music should really be heard in the concert hall, and since most conductors love to do Mahler you don't really need to listen to Mahler at home, provided you're in a city with a good orchestra.

However I have to confess a neighbour recently offered me her tickets to Mahler 6th with the Mariss Jansons conducting the Concertgebouw and I told her surely somebody else would enjoy it more...

There's something to be said for a certain amount of concision and restraint, and Mahler sure ain't saying it. I'm glad I had that Mahler period when I was in college, but I'm also glad I'm long past it.

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Post by jbuck919 » Wed Aug 17, 2005 4:33 am

Pizza and Herman have comforted me marvelous much. Honest, guys, thanks for the effort.

I am sure that it will not be a blinding revelation to other posters that in doing so, they have in fact uncovered exactly the state of affairs that underlies my quandary. Pizza, I know you know that you are not talking to a child. How much do I have to listen to? How many degrees in classical music do I have to hold? (One of my graduate student colleagues, himself now an eminent scholar, did not even like Wagner. Another of the same order, with whom I am still in contact, would still break into peals of laughter if I simply said the word "Tchaikovsky.")

The plain truth is that an educated listener can make a judgment very quickly, and is seldom wrong. I just don't want to be "wrong" about so many composers whose repertory is still considered standard. I remember last year reading a post from Ralph in which he was rushing off to hear Mahler's seventh, perhaps his weakest symphony, and all I could think was "why bother?" This year, the Bamberg symphony is performing the first and the sixth in subscription series, and all I can think is how soon to get the single ticket for the performance that features Debussy and the one that features the Saint-Saens Third Symphony because, oddly, I have never heard that with an organ in a concert hall (Ralph or anyone else in NY might be able to relate).

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

Ralph
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Post by Ralph » Wed Aug 17, 2005 5:53 am

jbuck919 wrote:Having bared my soul on this board about almost everything short of the intimate details of my sex life, I am going to go out on a (mildly) dissident limb and admit that I have never gotten Mahler. I trust the bunch of you not to decide instantly that you hate me after all.

Believe me, I've tried. The same is true of Bruckner and, Lord help me, largely even Strauss. I don't want to claim that in 1897 Brahms died and music died with him. I still adore Debussy and a few others of that generation. This disease is seriously impeding my resolve to follow the Bamberg symphony this year (when last year I only caught the annual New Year performance of Beethoven's Ninth). Help me if you can folks; it is terrible to go through life this way.
*****

We don't hate you, we're just sad that you don't appreciate the great composer. Perhaps we should have you abducted by a Mahler-conversion programmer (they exist but you have to be very careful in seeking one out, the same as when hiring someone from Murder, Inc.).
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Bengti
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Litmus Test for Mahler

Post by Bengti » Thu Aug 18, 2005 1:45 am

Im sure not everyone will agree BUT - a live performance of Mahler's Second is what converts many to his music. The Second amply demonstrates his unfailing sense of the epic, without resorting to what some see as excessive babble in the later symphonies (heretics!). Being one of the earlier symphonies, structure and argument is a touch more formal than say 6,7 and 9. This also contributes towards a sharper listening focus, and provides more sign-boarding.

Decca Legends - VPO/Metha is my unreserved recommendation. I first listened to the symphony when i bought this disc on blind faith, and it was well rewarded. With familiarity, other versions (rattle, stokowski, klemperer) have many good things to say, but coming fresh to mahler or to the Second, Metha grabs you by the throat and doesnt let go til the final chord.

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Post by herman » Thu Aug 18, 2005 3:57 am

Hate to tell ya, Bengti, but personally I think the 2nd is the absolute most unrelentingly awful symphony Mahler ever wrote. In comparison I love the Eighth as a subtle and refined piece of music. To me the 2nd sounds just like a far predecessor of symphonic rock.

But then I'm not really listening to music to be "grabbed by the throat" either.

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Post by jbuck919 » Thu Aug 18, 2005 7:07 am

Ralph wrote:
jbuck919 wrote:Having bared my soul on this board about almost everything short of the intimate details of my sex life, I am going to go out on a (mildly) dissident limb and admit that I have never gotten Mahler. I trust the bunch of you not to decide instantly that you hate me after all.

Believe me, I've tried. The same is true of Bruckner and, Lord help me, largely even Strauss. I don't want to claim that in 1897 Brahms died and music died with him. I still adore Debussy and a few others of that generation. This disease is seriously impeding my resolve to follow the Bamberg symphony this year (when last year I only caught the annual New Year performance of Beethoven's Ninth). Help me if you can folks; it is terrible to go through life this way.
*****

We don't hate you, we're just sad that you don't appreciate the great composer. Perhaps we should have you abducted by a Mahler-conversion programmer (they exist but you have to be very careful in seeking one out, the same as when hiring someone from Murder, Inc.).
If he can also make me love ugly women, I'm all for it.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

Bengti
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Post by Bengti » Thu Aug 18, 2005 9:08 am

Herman, thats quite extraordinary and impressive as the Eighth is much less in form a symphony than the Second, even though they share the same structural label. Great music it nonetheless is. I guess its coz you enjoy his song-cycles, so you would also prefer the Eighth, which has a lot of 'song' elements in Part 2.

Does this mean there are 2 camps to Mahler fans - Mahler the Symphonist and Mahler the Liederwunderkunstdirektor? If forced to choose, I may say i belong to the former, as I feel his symphonies argue straight to the core of human condition. (finale of 6th, 9th for e.g.) Im undecided on whether the songs do similar. More research needed.

But also, shouldnt we see Mahler as a whole - both symphonic and lieder contributions significant? If so, why then do the symphonic works no longer enthrall (enthroat!) you?

herman
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Post by herman » Thu Aug 18, 2005 9:58 am

Bengti wrote:Herman, thats quite extraordinary and impressive as the Eighth is much less in form a symphony than the Second, even though they share the same structural label.
I don't care about the label. I think Debussy's La Mer is a great piece of music, and it is not a symphony. Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty is much better than Tchaikovksy's symphonies.

This may also be because for me the symphonic form is not the nec plus ultra in music. I rather prefer piano solo music and chamber music.
Does this mean there are 2 camps to Mahler fans - Mahler the Symphonist and Mahler the Liederwunderkunstdirektor? [...] But also, shouldnt we see Mahler as a whole - both symphonic and lieder contributions significant? If so, why then do the symphonic works no longer enthrall (enthroat!) you?
I wouldn't attach too much value to what I say. For me M4 and M7 are the most succesful symphonies because they do indeed hark back to the lyrical lieder form. And in general I can say - as I did before - that Mahler doesn't really work for me anymore because I am not looking for music to overwhelm me in such a violent way anymore.

BuKiNisT
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Post by BuKiNisT » Thu Aug 18, 2005 10:33 am

What an interesting thread this turned out to be :)
Didn't think that there could be a lot of controversy around Mahler, but as it turns out, people will inevitably argue over any given subject - provided it is interesting for them :D

jbuck919
While i cannot agree with you on Mahler... I also cannot agree with you on Brahms. He is certainly a figure in music history - and some of his creations are infinitely powerful, and i used to limitlessly adore him too. However, the more time passes, the more i find his music largely secondary to the other great composers, and, in some areas and aspects - rather crude and straightforward.
Well, they didn't nickname his 1st Symphony "10th Beethoven's Syphony" only for its power...

herman
I perfectly understand you :) Yeah, for different people it's different.
For me Mahler's works - along with those of Rachmaninov, Franck and many others - are a perfect balancing factor - there certainly needs to be something that prevents people from dying having had their head fallen apart - because the smile was just too wide.
There's something to be said for a certain amount of concision and restraint, and Mahler sure ain't saying it.
Agreed. But mostly in the literal sense - the word 'short' just doesn't describe his compositions.
By the way, my favorite symphonies are 4 and 7 as well.

jbuck919 [2]
Well, if you're not into the idea of a Mahler-conversion programmer, then we could as well send you someone from Murder, inc. =)

pizza
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Post by pizza » Thu Aug 18, 2005 11:12 am

Critic Peter Gutmann's views on Mahler 2 are interesting and worth a quick read:

Classical Notes

Mahler's Symphony # 2

December, 2001 – 'Tis the season when serious music fans cringe before an onslaught of Nutcrackers and Messiahs that thwart bolder fare. For relief or elevation, those with more adventurous ears might well turn to Gustav Mahler's Symphony # 2 (“Resurrection”), an intense emotional workout which captures the full realm of human passion within its sprawling scope.

Although now lauded as monuments of vision and creativity, in their time Mahler's symphonies were occasionally reviled but more often dismissed as a conductor's egotistical indulgence. A critic of the time called his work “one hour or more of the most painful musical torture” – and that assault was directed toward his lovely pastoral Symphony # 4! As late as 1952, a detractor still moaned that “an hour of masochistic aural flagellation, with all of its elephantine forms, fatuous mysticism and screaming hysteria, ... adds up to a sublimely ridiculous minus-zero.”

The problem wasn't so much a matter of grasping Mahler's musical style – as the culmination of the long line of Viennese symphonists, his ideas were firmly rooted in the conservative structures of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Bruckner. Rather, the challenge lay in its emotional premises. As Herbert Reid later explained, Mahler's temperament sensed the imminent upheavals that were to shatter the rationality and optimism that had driven Western civilization up to World War I. His symphonies are spiritual quests that reflect a wholly modern ambivalence of joy and pain, faith and doubt, transcendence and perdition. Mahler was way ahead of his time. Only by the 1960s did his private anxieties at last become our own.

The “Resurrection” was Mahler's favorite symphony, which he led on many auspicious occasions, and it had the longest gestation of any of his works. The opening was completed in 1888 as “Totenfeier” (“Funeral Rites”), a stormy symphonic poem to bear the hero of Mahler's recently-completed First Symphony to his grave, amid torment over the meaning of his life. The middle movements awaited Mahler's summer vacation of 1893 and reflected his fascination with the same medieval folk poetry which provided the texts for most of his songs.

His creative block for a suitable finale was finally broken in a startling way. Conductor Hans von Bulow was a cherished mentor but had violently rejected the Totenfeier as incomprehensible after encouraging Mahler to play it for him. Thus, when he attended von Bulow's funeral, Mahler's feelings must have been quite conflicted. As he later recalled, at the climax a children's choir sang Friedrich Klopstock's Aufersteh'n (“Resurrection Ode”), and “it flashed on me like lightning and everything became plain and clear in my mind.” Seized with inspiration, Mahler added his own apocalyptic and cathartic verses to the Ode and quickly pulled his symphony into final form.

The first movement is hugely dramatic; according to Mahler's own program notes it aims to convey nothing less than a search for the meaning of life. The second, representing long-forgotten pleasure, is a gentle, old-fashioned dance of lilting grace, yet challenged by creeping shadows. The third is a grotesque and wickedly sarcastic waltz, shot through with anguished outcries. The fourth is a child's song, naïve and wistfully introspective.

And then comes the vast finale, which depicts the full terror and glory of a pagan last judgment and resurrection. It begins with a huge crash and progresses through episodes of hushed expectancy, quivering tension, funeral dirges, hopeful fanfares and fevered misgiving, culminating in a triumphant apocalyptic chorale, one of the most glorious and powerful climaxes in all of music. Mahler adds to the awesome wonder with extraordinary instrumental effects, including offstage brass, a massive battery of percussion and ultimately the sheer visceral excitement of the potent sound produced by hundreds of singers and players.

In his lifetime, Mahler was far better known as a conductor than as a composer. Indeed, he was one of the most influential of all orchestral leaders of his time. His musicians recalled his focused intensity, his demand for passionate playing, his calls for ever-greater volume, his incessant concern for atmosphere and his constant subtle variation within a basic tempo (and not only when he conducted – when he walked he reportedly staggered with a continually changing pace). Mahler had no standard interpretive approach. He was an ardent maverick, subjecting each performance to his creative whim.

In light of his bold and unpredictable conducting style, it's intriguing to speculate how Mahler must have led his own work. Mahler never made any recordings (other than four piano rolls), but his principal students and associates did, especially of the “Resurrection.” Of these, Oskar Fried conducts the Mahler the most important is a courageous 1923 enterprise by Oskar Fried. Before the use of microphones and amplifiers became prevalent in 1925, the acoustical recording method required performers to crowd around a large horn to vibrate the cutting stylus directly with their sound. The forces had to be reduced to chamber proportions, the fidelity was bereft of bass and high overtones, the balances were bizarre, the dynamics were drastically abridged, there was barely a hint of ambiance and the four-minute sides were often recorded out of sequence (the 22 here are believed to have been cut in at least two locations over the course of two years). Even so, Fried's remains an exciting and well-integrated reading, especially in its magnificent recent transfer on Naxos 110152-53. Amid vast rhythmic freedom and huge extremes of tempo, there's a fresh, spontaneous feeling throughout, and the playing has an invitingly relaxed quality. (Incidentally, while speaking of pioneers, the first electrical recording of the Resurrection would come in 1934 from an unlikely source – Eugene Ormandy and his Minneapolis Symphony. In contrast to his later reputation as reliable but rather dull, it's sharp, lean and gripping – and extremely well-played and -recorded (Biddulph WHL-032).)

Fried's reading boasts authenticity – not only was he one of the first conductors to program this work (in 1905), but Mahler himself assisted in the preparations, becoming so enthused that he paid for an extra rehearsal with his personal funds. Not only were Fried's records cut barely a decade after Mahler's death, but they emulate the descriptions of Mahler's own impulsive style. Yet, despite its historical importance, the crushing sonic limits of Fried's recording barely suggest the splendor of the vibrant orchestration and the visceral excitement of the climaxes. Fortunately, two of Mahler's other associates lived to bequeath us stereo souvenirs of their insights; unfortunately, though, in the intervening decades their outlooks had evolved and their energy had dissipated.

Bruno Walter (1876 - 1962) met Mahler in 1895 and instantly fell under his spell, first as assistant and observer and ultimately as confidant and protégé. (Walter was entrusted with the posthumous premieres of Mahler's last two works.) Yet, his 1958 studio Resurrection with the New York Philharmonic (now on Sony SM2K 64447) is surprisingly bland. Despite enormous critical acclaim, it's woefully undernourished and ignores Mahler's essential edgy nervous intensity; like a sing-song reading of poetic drama, it just doesn't add up to a complete experience. We can surmise that his lax Resurrection was a function of his advanced age and the drastic mellowing that pervades all his final recordings. Indeed, a vital 1948 Vienna Philharmonic concert transcends compressed lo-fi sound to provide a far better suggestion of Walter's insight through a riveting and fulfilling blend of bracing drama, tangible atmosphere and persuasive structure; while its best transfer is on premium Andante set 4973, budget Classica d'Oro 1033 includes a sensational 1939 NBC Symphony # 1 that utterly blows away Walter's genial 1961 studio effort.

Otto Klemperer (1885 - 1973) had served as an assistant conductor during Fried's 1905 concert, after which Mahler's recommendation paved the way to his own career. Both in the studio (EMI 69662) and in concert (EMI 66867), the power of Klemperer's 1960s readings arises from constantly pressing forward with no pause for sentiment. Klemperer achieves a great sense of unity but, like Walter in the studio, only by eschewing a tortured psychic journey.

Although their paths crossed only briefly Leopold Stokowski (1882 - 1977) fervently championed Mahler, leading several US premieres of his work. Yet, his Resurrection – his first and only Mahler studio recording – was made at age 92 (on BMG 62606). While beautifully shaped and with a compelling architectural sweep, it, too, lacks Mahler's passion. Fortunately, we also have a fabulous 1963 London concert (BBC 4136, in decent mono sound), when Stoky was "only" 81, in which he enlivens the same sense of overarching structure with ardent vitality. (Reportedly, Stoky was so moved by the ecstatic audience's 20-minute ovation that he repeated the finale for them.)

Mahler predicted: “My time will yet come.” Indeed it finally did. Although Mengelberg, Barbirolli, Abravanel, Mitropoulos and others kept Mahler's flame flickering in the half-century after his death, public enthusiasm at last ignited through the efforts of two very different young advocates of a later generation. Mahler's soul-searching angst and searing emotion resonated deeply within the soul of Leonard Bernstein (1920 - 1992), Leonard Bernstein and the NY Philharmonic (Sony) who wowed audiences with kinetic readings of the Resurrection since the outset of his career. Bernstein cherished the work so deeply that it comprised his 1000th performance with the New York Philharmonic, a concert drenched in emotion that I attended and still recall vividly. Bernstein made three recordings and they're are all sensational. The first, in 1963 with the New York Philharmonic (Sony SM2K 63159, or in a fabulous budget box of all the Mahler symphonies, SX12K 89499), Leonard Bernstein and the NY Philharmonic (DG)was a whole-hearted and unabashed plunge into Mahler's psyche that still bristles with ardent exaggeration, brash energy and explosive climaxes, abetted by magnificently vital playing by the same orchestra Mahler had led in his final years. A 1973 remake with the London Symphony (Sony SM2K 47573) is more relaxed, but with startling dynamics. A final 1987 New York Philharmonic concert (DG 423 395) seethes with transcendent vision; while it's a bit diffuse and even stodgy at first, the finale builds from a choral entrance awash in hushed timeless mysticism to an apocalyptic ending of overwhelming intensity.

The second modern flashpoint came from a more unlikely source. Like so many other listeners, Gilbert Kaplan, a wealthy American publisher, fell in love with the Mahler Second. But while most of us manage to live with our fantasies, Kaplan turned his into an obsession, dedicating himself to intensive research into the symphony's background, sources and history. He acquired Mahler's autograph score, published scholarly essays, restored Mahler's composing cottage, established the first Mahler museum, created a Foundation, lectured extensively and emerged as the world's foremost authority on the Resurrection. But even that was not enough – at the age of 40, he learned to read music, took conducting lessons and toured the world to lead the Resurrection. In 1987, Kaplan produced a recording. Reportedly, it's become the best-selling Mahler record of all time. (Of several editions, the best is on Conifer 51277, which includes audio bonus tracks, a CD ROM photo gallery and the complete, albeit miniaturized, score.)

Kaplan's goal was to reconstruct how Mahler himself would have performed his masterpiece. The result is note-perfect, with every tempo scrupulously observed and every accent precisely placed. Yet, despite the thoroughness of the scholarship and the sincerity of the intentions, something essential is missing – the vision of an artist. Mahler insisted that music reflect an intimate partnership of composer and performer. Indeed, as a conductor he often “retouched” others' work to suit his personal perception and surely would have endorsed no lesser treatment of his own music. Thus, the essence of Mahler lies not in the literalness of his scores, faithfully conveyed by Kaplan, but in the crucial creative prerogative of the interpreter, whether the unfettered wildness of Fried, the warm humanity of Walter, the steadfast impetus of Klemperer, the structural breadth of Stokowski, the ardent passion of Bernstein or, for that matter, the diverse personalities that infuse the much-admired readings of Scherchen, Barbirolli, Solti, Rattle and others.

Then again, if you just want musical comfort for the holidays, there's always another Nutcracker.

October 2003 Update:
Gilbert Kaplan's new Vienna Philharmonic recording

Kaplan’s second Resurrection (DG B0000989) boasts even more authenticity than his first – the world premiere performance of the New Critical Edition of the score, which Kaplan co-edited. Gilbert Kaplan and the Vienna Philharmonic Yet, in contrast with its self-proclaimed importance, documentation is woefully thin – a dozen sentences beyond generic bios and reprints of program notes from the Conifer set – but I wonder if the American release is abridged, as the notes refer to material on pages that don’t exist and the DG website has far more extensive information. Does the new edition render all the others obsolete? Hardly. There are no massive structural changes, but just accumulated refinements Mahler had marked in his scores up to the year before his death. Indeed, even with the old score in hand, the new performance presents few audible differences. With Mahler’s orchestra and chorus (the Vienna Philharmonic and Singverein), recorded in the hall where he once reigned (the Musikverein) and even using one of his batons (which Kaplan bought), is the new performance definitive? In concept, it barely differs from Kaplan's first – not quite as pointed and sharp, but slightly slower, more yielding and with a more blended acoustic. The differences are subtle – to cite just a single but telling example, the repeated string glissandi between rehearsal numbers 23 and 24 of the first movement sound less mechanical now, with more dynamic thrust. It’s really the difference between the orchestras – the London Symphony is more malleable, whereas the Vienna Philharmonic is a well-oiled machine with a distinctive “sound” (which Mahler helped shape). Temperamentally, Kaplan’s approach remains much the same. He’s been quoted as claiming that when he conducts the Resurrection it’s just music, shorn of the all-important metaphysical questions he ponders in lectures and writings. Yet, according to a New York Times article by Richard Bernstein, he also recognizes that “Mahler’s music is about expressing emotion and you have to bring your own life and experience into it.” But Kaplan really doesn’t. Perhaps in another decade he’ll let his feelings, whatever they are, override his scholarly detachment. Until then, if you seek a literal translation of the score into sound, either of the Kaplan recordings is just fine. If I had to choose, I think I’d stick with the former – a dissection really should be performed under glaring fluorescent lights. The Kaplan recordings really are impressive – their clarity fosters appreciation for the scope of Mahler’s wildly imaginative use of orchestral resources. But if you seek a genuine inspired performance, you’ll still have to turn elsewhere.

April 2004 Update:
Gilbert Kaplan conducts the National Symphony Orchestra

After taking the Resurrection around the world, from the music capitols of Europe to Israel, Russia, Japan and China, Kaplan at last made his conducting debut with our National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, DC. The concert, of course, consisted only of the Mahler Second. Washington Post ad announcing Gilbert Kaplan performing the Mahler Resurrection Symphony with the National Symphony Orchestra At the risk of being thrice stung (and this time for a lot more than the price of another CD), I had hoped that Kaplan would prove more intriguing live than on either of his records. But while tempos were somewhat freer, he still gave more of a solid rendition than an inspiring interpretation. Although confident on the podium, he was largely cold and mechanical, with only rare expressive gestures. Yet, his directions were clear and he managed to inspire the orchestra to play magnificently. Quiet moments were often exquisite, but climaxes tended to be more loud than powerful, with the brass constantly overwhelming the texture. Although Kaplan had transferred what he considered to be the most significant aspects of his yet-unpublished Critical Edition to the part scores used for his performances, there was at least one change that seemed to go beyond the revisions evident from the VPO CD – a tympani roll following the massive climax at the end of the first movement development.

After the concert Kaplan generously stayed around to sign autographs and chat. Waiting to talk to him, I had some time to ponder. Like Chaplin’s City Lights, the Mahler Resurrection never fails to overwhelm me, and, true to form, by the end I was quite overwrought. Yet, the impact of the dispassionate rendition soon faded, and by the time I left the Kennedy Center I felt disappointed. Even so, I came to realize that in an important way Kaplan had succeeded brilliantly at his mission – by refusing to interject his own ego, he focussed all attention upon this astounding score, complete with its bold emotion, compelling orchestration and startling quadraphonic effects, all of which, ultimately, manage to survive largely intact even without an overlay of interpretive personality. While I still view Kaplan more as a skilled craftsman than a great artist, a beautifully fashioned machine may only need a mechanic to operate it.

Kaplan has refashioned his life into one of utter service to Mahler; rather than isolating himself with the remove of academia, he puts himself on the front line through his performances. Most concerts prompt fond remembrance of the artists, but here there was no such diversion – all impressions converged upon the composer. And while I question whether that really fulfils the role of a concert nowadays when convenient (and far less expensive) scores and records provide ready access to the music itself, my abiding remembrance of the Kaplan performance is one of deep respect for his sincere and selfless integrity.

Peter Gutmann

http://www.classicalnotes.net/classics/mahlersym2.html

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Post by rach » Thu Aug 18, 2005 5:03 pm

Barry Z wrote:I rarely pass up an opportunity to hear a Mahler symphony in concert. It's great music to experience live.
I agree, when I am listening to Mahler live even #7 (my least favorite) sound better

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Post by Bengti » Fri Aug 19, 2005 1:44 am

There is a theatrical quality to Mahler's symphonies that comes across well in the concert hall, and some live recordings - something that sets it apart from symphonic rock potpurri. It adds to the experience of concert going, more than I would say listening to a Brahms symphony does.

But if we take that to its logical conclusion then Bruckner is likely to be the concert equivalent of sitting in an empty baroque church - full of beauty so abstract the themes of resurrection/incarnation etc. embedded in his symphonies appear as statically eternal - suspended outside time and history.

Mahlers sense of heroism, redemption and salvation are much more experiential and thats never too much of a good thing (my smile wont take my head with it. :) )

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Post by jbuck919 » Fri Aug 19, 2005 4:42 am

Bengti wrote:There is a theatrical quality to Mahler's symphonies that comes across well in the concert hall, and some live recordings - something that sets it apart from symphonic rock potpurri. It adds to the experience of concert going, more than I would say listening to a Brahms symphony does.

But if we take that to its logical conclusion then Bruckner is likely to be the concert equivalent of sitting in an empty baroque church - full of beauty so abstract the themes of resurrection/incarnation etc. embedded in his symphonies appear as statically eternal - suspended outside time and history.

Mahlers sense of heroism, redemption and salvation are much more experiential and thats never too much of a good thing (my smile wont take my head with it. :) )
Unfortunately, that is as much as saying that Mahler is a showman falling short of an artist. And as for the comment on Bruckner, do very kindly allow yourself the experience of sitting in an empty baroque church; it is quite the superior to having to listen to his music.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
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Post by herman » Fri Aug 19, 2005 5:30 am

Peter Gutman wrote:: "Then again, if you just want musical comfort for the holidays, there's always another Nutcracker."
It's always a brilliant idea to write an immensily long piece and then deflate everything you've been saying with something as stupid as this.

Of course Mahler 2 is just as much a piece of musical comfort as Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker. It's just that some people need all kinds of doom and damnation (and, yes, resurrection) visions to be really amused, such as people who go for Mahler 2.

The Nutcracker is (partly) a beautiful humanistic story about discovering our innate ability (and need) to give comfort, indeed, and about how exercizing our imagination makes us better human beings, as when the young Clara comforts her broken toy present, and it turns into a real prince. I don't see what's wrong with that, especially when there's such beautifully orchestrated music in this piece (which is far from my favorite Tchaikovsky or ballet).

I can't help it the Nutcracker gets performed too often in the US and some people get bored with it.

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Post by jbuck919 » Fri Aug 19, 2005 6:31 am

herman wrote:
Peter Gutman wrote:: "Then again, if you just want musical comfort for the holidays, there's always another Nutcracker."

The Nutcracker is (partly) a beautiful humanistic story about discovering our innate ability (and need) to give comfort, indeed, and about how exercizing our imagination makes us better human beings, as when the young Clara comforts her broken toy present, and it turns into a real prince. I don't see what's wrong with that, especially when there's such beautifully orchestrated music in this piece (which is far from my favorite Tchaikovsky or ballet).

I can't help it the Nutcracker gets performed too often in the US and some people get bored with it.
This little town where I find myself has a couple of claims to fame, and one is that it was the home to ETA Hoffmann.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
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Post by Bengti » Fri Aug 19, 2005 9:30 am

jbuck919 wrote:Unfortunately, that is as much as saying that Mahler is a showman falling short of an artist. And as for the comment on Bruckner, do very kindly allow yourself the experience of sitting in an empty baroque church; it is quite the superior to having to listen to his music.
Jbuck, hardly the case. Just cause a composer has a theatrical device in a piece doesnt imply that he has dumbed down from artist to showman. Do tell Haydn that for his cluck-calls in the No. 83 (The Hen) or the drone bass figure representing the dancing bear in No.82 (The Bear). Should we denounce Berlioz as a mere sensationalist for imitating rats in the finale of his Symphnie Fantastique?

If we hold a general consensus that these are masterworks of good composers, where does Mahler pervert/over-stretch compositional boundaries in the Second to the point where he is sufficiently showy as to be less than artful in comparison to rats, hens, bears and sundry other livestock?

Yes, my favourite catherdral to hang out at is St. Charles in Vienna, high baroque architecture in perfection. I think Bruckner was inspired by it too, which means that his music is a response to the architecture you enjoy - you're not to far from his point of view.

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Post by jbuck919 » Fri Aug 19, 2005 9:53 am

Bengti wrote:
jbuck919 wrote:Unfortunately, that is as much as saying that Mahler is a showman falling short of an artist. And as for the comment on Bruckner, do very kindly allow yourself the experience of sitting in an empty baroque church; it is quite the superior to having to listen to his music.
Jbuck, hardly the case. Just cause a composer has a theatrical device in a piece doesnt imply that he has dumbed down from artist to showman. Do tell Haydn that for his cluck-calls in the No. 83 (The Hen) or the drone bass figure representing the dancing bear in No.82 (The Bear). Should we denounce Berlioz as a mere sensationalist for imitating rats in the finale of his Symphnie Fantastique?

If we hold a general consensus that these are masterworks of good composers, where does Mahler pervert/over-stretch compositional boundaries in the Second to the point where he is sufficiently showy as to be less than artful in comparison to rats, hens, bears and sundry other livestock?

Yes, my favourite catherdral to hang out at is St. Charles in Vienna, high baroque architecture in perfection. I think Bruckner was inspired by it too, which means that his music is a response to the architecture you enjoy - you're not to far from his point of view.
It is not a cathedral (a cathedral is the seat of a bishopric--the cathedral of Vienna is St. Stephen's, which is gothic, not baroque), but it is one of the most important of baroque churches, and was special to of all people Brahms.

Your post was very well written and thought provoking, and I thank you for the honor of your reply. I don't like not liking Mahler, you know. I wish I could pull it all together to appreciate him. Every attempt just seems to fail.
Last edited by jbuck919 on Fri Aug 19, 2005 9:55 am, edited 2 times in total.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
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Post by BuKiNisT » Fri Aug 19, 2005 9:54 am

Hey, jbuck...

Could you please at least add "imho" to those statements like
And as for the comment on Bruckner, do very kindly allow yourself the experience of sitting in an empty baroque church; it is quite the superior to having to listen to his music.
We're not discussing politics here anyway, so being nice is highly appreciated ^_^

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Post by jbuck919 » Fri Aug 19, 2005 10:20 am

BuKiNisT wrote:Hey, jbuck...

Could you please at least add "imho" to those statements like
And as for the comment on Bruckner, do very kindly allow yourself the experience of sitting in an empty baroque church; it is quite the superior to having to listen to his music.
We're not discussing politics here anyway, so being nice is highly appreciated ^_^
I rarely fail to be nice, but I also tend to have no humble opinions. Both Brahms and Wagner detested Bruckner. That's good enough for me.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Post by BuKiNisT » Fri Aug 19, 2005 10:35 am

Whether one finds Bruckners music better or worse than sitting in an empty baroque cathedral is strictly a matter of personal taste. And while i am also not especially fond of this composer, i can't see how your advice fits into a nice conversation.

No offense

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Post by jbuck919 » Fri Aug 19, 2005 11:13 am

BuKiNisT wrote:Whether one finds Bruckners music better or worse than sitting in an empty baroque cathedral is strictly a matter of personal taste. And while i am also not especially fond of this composer, i can't see how your advice fits into a nice conversation.

No offense
None taken.

You know, it is neither baroque nor a cathedral, but last year I happened to drop in on the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, and for half an hour I was the only living human being in the building that saw the premier of the St. Matthew Passion.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
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Of Churches and Symphonies

Post by Bengti » Fri Aug 19, 2005 7:22 pm

Jbuck - Thanks, didnt know that Brahms liked the St. Charles too. St. Stephens is significant as well, but being in the center of the city, with the tourists and the 'look at the skulls and bones' tours etc., I think its lost its ability to convey the awesome presence of the divine, which Bruckner must have thought about during composition - especially when penning one of 'those' coda.

I'll light a candle at St Charles that the right performance may switch you onto Mahler, wrap its arms around you like Kaplan said of the Second. But in the meantime, nothing beats the morning with Kleiber's rendition of the Passacaglia from the E minor symphony :wink:

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Post by Bengti » Fri Aug 19, 2005 8:27 pm

And then comes the vast finale, which depicts the full terror and glory of a pagan last judgment and resurrection
Just had a chance to read the long post on Mahler's Second - the Resurrection Ode by Klopstock is not a pagan text, but a Christian one - speaking of the resurrection of Christ, and the salvation to eternal life offered as a result:

"Unsterlich Leben/
Wird, der dich rief, dir geben"

["He who called thee/
will grant thee immortal life."]

cf:
2 Thessalonians 2:14 - He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ."

Mustn't have won Mahler many friends in his own Khosher community.

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Post by 12tone » Fri Aug 19, 2005 9:52 pm

herman wrote:
Bengti wrote:Herman, thats quite extraordinary and impressive as the Eighth is much less in form a symphony than the Second, even though they share the same structural label.
I don't care about the label. I think Debussy's La Mer is a great piece of music, and it is not a symphony. Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty is much better than Tchaikovksy's symphonies.
I personally enjoy Swan Lake out of all the three ballets...but truth be told I have only listened to very little of Sleeping Beauty...the first half hour or so is really boring to me. I'll keep trying though!

But yes, I thought: "Wow, Tchaikovsky sure wrote powerful ballet music. His symphonies must be up there as well."

So I bought the complete Tchai symphony cycle by Karajan on DG. Very troublingly boring. Almost as boring as Bruckner.

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Post by Corlyss_D » Fri Aug 19, 2005 10:09 pm

12tone wrote:Very troublingly boring. Almost as boring as Bruckner.
:lol: :lol: :lol: Look out, 12tone!!!! Incoming!!!!!!
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Post by jbuck919 » Fri Aug 19, 2005 10:28 pm

12tone wrote:I personally enjoy Swan Lake out of all the three ballets...but truth be told I have only listened to very little of Sleeping Beauty...the first half hour or so is really boring to me. I'll keep trying though!



But yes, I thought: "Wow, Tchaikovsky sure wrote powerful ballet music. His symphonies must be up there as well."

So I bought the complete Tchai symphony cycle by Karajan on DG. Very troublingly boring. Almost as boring as Bruckner.
As I have pointed out before, Tchaikovsky lived in an absolute monarchy, and if the Tsar had had any sense at all, he would have decreed that T. never write anything other than ballet music. Now add Sibelius to your list and we'll have a nice little thread going about pointless symphonic composers.

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Post by Bengti » Sat Aug 20, 2005 12:19 am

jbuck919 wrote:
12tone wrote:I personally enjoy Swan Lake out of all the three ballets...but truth be told I have only listened to very little of Sleeping Beauty...the first half hour or so is really boring to me. I'll keep trying though!

But yes, I thought: "Wow, Tchaikovsky sure wrote powerful ballet music. His symphonies must be up there as well."

So I bought the complete Tchai symphony cycle by Karajan on DG. Very troublingly boring. Almost as boring as Bruckner.
As I have pointed out before, Tchaikovsky lived in an absolute monarchy, and if the Tsar had had any sense at all, he would have decreed that T. never write anything other than ballet music. Now add Sibelius to your list and we'll have a nice little thread going about pointless symphonic composers.
Sleeping Beauty - Only Pletnev recording with his RNO (DG) gripped me.
http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/Pla ... 0502030703

Tchaikovsky Symphonies - agree, not the best cycle, though Fifth and Pathetique are worth studying. Pathetique inspired Mahler 9, so the negative reaction is consistent with out thread of discussions. Karajan on DG isnt a strong proponent. Gergiev/VPO for the Fifth, Pletnev/RNO for Virgin (not DG!) is a must listen.
http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/Dri ... mp_id=3217 and http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/alb ... um_id=6815 respectively.

In Sibelius Jbuck and I share a common assessment - its not accessible stuff. When I am in a wierd mood, I listen to the Fourth and Sixth, but how often do we find that sort of disposition ? Karajan is much more successful here. Judging by his 'for Home DVD' scowl, he probably was feeling weird very often.

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Post by herman » Sat Aug 20, 2005 8:48 am

12tone wrote:So I bought the complete Tchai symphony cycle by Karajan on DG. Very troublingly boring. Almost as boring as Bruckner.
I don't think anybody has ever claimed a kinship between Bruckner and Tchaikovsky symphonies before. Too bad you didn't like those Tchaikovsky symphonies; I wish you could be persuaded to kick that box-set habit. I don't think it's helping you in any way to make smart choices about getting to know composers in the most attractive way.

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Post by Bengti » Sat Aug 20, 2005 9:30 am

Right on Herman, box sets are the bane of growing the classical music listeners base.

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Post by 12tone » Sat Aug 20, 2005 9:31 am

herman wrote:
12tone wrote:So I bought the complete Tchai symphony cycle by Karajan on DG. Very troublingly boring. Almost as boring as Bruckner.
I don't think anybody has ever claimed a kinship between Bruckner and Tchaikovsky symphonies before. Too bad you didn't like those Tchaikovsky symphonies; I wish you could be persuaded to kick that box-set habit. I don't think it's helping you in any way to make smart choices about getting to know composers in the most attractive way.
Yeah I'm starting to realise that. I need to find some more good singles.

As well, I bought another box set of the Sibelius symphonies (Maazel on London). So far I've only heard #1 and some of #2.

Our Vancouver Symphony Orchestra will be playing #2 among the set-list in an upcoming show near us in a closer city than downtown Vancouver. I'm not so sure I'll be going to it...or I might. Depends on how things go.

Mahler so far is my only choice for the post-romantics. No others are really stacking up.

Others I've heard: Dvorak, Tchaikovsky and Sibelius. I have boxed sets of all three.

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Post by 12tone » Sat Aug 20, 2005 9:41 am

Bengti wrote:Right on Herman, box sets are the bane of growing the classical music listeners base.
Take that back! I have lots of lovely boxed sets.

Like this one for instance: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/de ... =classical

This is my most listened to boxed set...and it's also the one that I find that has the best version of the Brandenburg Concertos. No other one so far has come close -- either from Britten's group or Tafelmusik or even Boston Baroque.

Musica Antiqua Koln nailed it completely! Yay for them.

It's one of the best box sets ever.

And I have many other favorite boxes.

[/url]

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Post by jbuck919 » Sat Aug 20, 2005 9:42 am

Listen, my only Strauss (Richard that is) is a boxed set of, believe it or not, the complet orchestral works. There is no need to apologize for taking advantage of this convenience, and if you were talking on the other hand about Beethoven, it would still not be lots of singles but multiple boxed sets.

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Post by 12tone » Sat Aug 20, 2005 9:52 am

jbuck919 wrote:Listen, my only Strauss (Richard that is) is a boxed set of, believe it or not, the complet orchestral works. There is no need to apologize for taking advantage of this convenience, and if you were talking on the other hand about Beethoven, it would still not be lots of singles but multiple boxed sets.
Nice, you mean that Strauss family box set on London or Decca?

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/de ... =classical

I was thinking of getting this. I wouldn't mind some Strauss...I love waltzes. All that gooey goodness I'm sure we're embarrased to admit.

But yes, boxes are good. Especially for Beethoven symphonies. Who else here enjoys the Menuhin cycle on Apex with the Sinfonia Varsovia? Rocks, period.

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Post by Bengti » Sat Aug 20, 2005 9:58 am

Yeah I think the qualification is necessary - boxed sets of some music that is stylistically consistent can be very rewarding - Bach, Scarlatti etc. Beethoven too, though I suspect coz special effort to understand and master the Symphonies has been made over the years.

On others, especially the late-post romantics (sibelius, dvorak, tchaikovsky, mahler, bruckner etc), boxed sets are more of a mixed bag. Sometimes its the approach - conductors take 10-15 years to finish the cycle - that results in an inconsistent achievement. Other times its the recording or a change in orchestra. Still others its having to change discs midway through a symphony (DG's Collectors Edition for Dvorak's Symphonies/Kubelik)

12tone, thanks for the rec, I havent got that one. Will check it out.

Jbuck ! Is it the David Zinman/Tonhalle set ? That is quite the box !! Thoroughly enjoying it. http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/de ... =classical

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Post by jbuck919 » Sat Aug 20, 2005 10:17 am

Needless to say, it all depends on what you consider important. I would certainly not wish to demean our posters who adore Strauss, or Bruckner or Mahler for that matter, but for me I only need a convenient boxed set so that I am not in the truly pitiable position of not having it in my library at all.

If you are talking, on the other hand, about the Bach cantatas, I would own every set there has ever been if I could afford it and if the damned things didn't keep going out of print before I can complete the subscription. I still don't have a collection that covers every single one of the 200+.

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Post by herman » Sun Aug 21, 2005 3:44 am

12tone wrote:
herman wrote: I don't think it's helping you in any way to make smart choices about getting to know composers in the most attractive way.
Yeah I'm starting to realise that. I need to find some more good singles.
12tone wrote:But yes, boxes are good. Especially for Beethoven symphonies. Who else here enjoys the Menuhin cycle on Apex with the Sinfonia Varsovia? Rocks, period.
You seem to be of two minds.

The thing with complete sets is, most performers have works they really really like, and works they only do because they signed a contract for a complete recording.

Rare are the performers whose complete X are as good as the performers who only record the works they are really into. (Rubinstein's Chopin is one of those rare exceptions IMO.)

So what you’re doing when you buy a complete X, is you buy a couple of not so great performances along with one or two really good ones.

Forgive me for saying the Menuhin is not the greatest Beethoven there is. Menuhin was a violinist. Not a conductor.
12tone wrote:
jbuck919 wrote:Listen, my only Strauss (Richard that is) is a boxed set of, believe it or not, the complet orchestral works. There is no need to apologize for taking advantage of this convenience, and if you were talking on the other hand about Beethoven, it would still not be lots of singles but multiple boxed sets.
Nice, you mean that Strauss family box set on London or Decca?
Richard Strauss (the opera composer etc) is not part of the Vienesse waltz family. That is why Buck emphasized he was talking about Richard.

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Post by Dalibor » Sun Aug 21, 2005 1:54 pm

12tone wrote:Very troublingly boring. Almost as boring as Bruckner.
Hey, Bruckner ain't boring. I love his sixt symphony, and second to an extent (those are the only two I own). The problem with him was... he is prone to over-writting. A bit of cutting in SoundForge (sound editing software) would do him good.

How many of you think that Mahler was also often over-writting? The damned Beethoven influence - you want to be Beethoven, while you are not...

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