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Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Symphonies 1-10, Totenfeier, Das Lied von der Erde
see end of review for detailed listings
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Daniel Harding, Mariss Jansons, Iván Fischer, Daniele Gatti, Lorin Maazel, Pierre Boulez, Bernard Haitink, Eliahu Inbal, Fabio Luisi
rec. live, 2009-2011, Concertgebouw, Amsterdam
Video directors: Hans Hulscher, Joost Honselaar
Picture: 1080i Full HD
Sound: PCM Stereo, dts-HD Master Audio Surround
No liner-notes or credits/subtitles
RCO LIVE RCO12102 BLU-RAY [11 BDs: 14:22:00]


 
Founded in 1888 Amsterdam’s Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra has had a long and distinguished relationship with the music of Gustav Mahler. Chief conductor Willem Mengelberg first met the composer in 1902 and invited him to give the Dutch premieres of several of his symphonies. By all accounts it was a close and fruitful relationship, and one that set in train more than a century of ground-breaking Mahler performances; there was the famous Mahler Festival of 1920, and after Mengelberg’s controversial downfall in 1945 it was left to Eduard van Beinum and Bernard Haitink – chief conductors from 1945 to 1959 and 1961 to 1988 respectively – to continue this fine tradition.
 
Since then the Concertgebouw has been led by a number of notable Mahlerians, Riccardo Chailly – their chief conductor from 1988 to 2004 – among them. As for Haitink’s 1960s Mahler recordings they’re pioneering efforts and must be celebrated; Chailly’s Decca box is more variable, although hehas since made amends with a splendid Gewandhaus Resurrection on Blu-ray/DVD (review). Mariss Jansons, the orchestra’s chief conductor since 2004, has yet to persuade me of his Mahlerian credentials. Yes, he has directed a very good Second in Oslo (Chandos) but his more recent SACDs for RCO Live don’t always challenge the best in the catalogue.
 
The real selling point of these handsomely packaged and funkily designed RCO Live Blu-rays and DVDs is that the symphonies are farmed out to several conductors. Jansons has the plums – the Second, Third and Eighth – while the rest are taken by baton-wavers with at least something of a track record in Mahler. Daniel Harding’s Vienna Mahler Tenth for DG certainly impressed Anne Ozorio (review) and Daniele Gatti has recorded a much-lauded Fifth for Conifer. Eliahu Inbal, Lorin Maazel and Pierre Boulez need no introduction when it comes to this repertoire, although Fabio Luisi is only known to me for his incomplete Strauss cycle for Sony. Surprisingly, the latter gets two bites of the cherry, with performances of Totenfeier – the basis for the first movement of the Second symphony – and Das Lied von der Erde.
 
Actually this set has another advantage; at the time of writing it’s the only complete Mahler cycle on Blu-ray. Claudio Abbado’s Lucerne performances are split between Euroarts and Accentus; Euroarts’ box of the first seven symphonies and the Rückert Lieder – individual issues were blighted by technical problems – was well received by Dave Billinge (review). The Accentus Ninth has since appeared separately, with the Eighth and Das Lied von der Erde still awaited. As Abbado has never embraced Deryck Cooke’s – or anyone else’s – performing version of the Tenth all we can expect from him is the usual stand-alone Adagio.
 
As it happens, Harding – who conducts the First symphony – was hired as Abbado’s assistant at the Berliner Philharmoniker after holding a similar post with Simon Rattle and the CBSO. He is also music director of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, formed in 1997 by Abbado and a group of musicians from the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra. All of which augurs well for this opening concert, as does the ear-pricking loveliness at the start. Harding, with score but sans baton, has a florid style of conducting that, alas, soon manifests itself in a very beautiful but somewhat mannered reading of this symphony.
 
Articulation is not terribly crisp and, like compatriot Jonathan Nott in the same work, Harding has an irritating habit of parenthesising phrases. By contrast, Klaus Tennstedt – in his live BBC Legends recording – finds a seamless urgency here that translates into a uniquely gripping performance (review). Harding is just too self-indulgent, with the result that momentum falters and ensemble is often less than tidy. The delectable Ländler in the second movement aren’t very well sprung either, and that ghostly Frère Jacques tune in the third is curiously po-faced. As for the finale it’s just too fitful; and while climaxes are undeniably thrilling the lack of structural cohesion and cumulative tension makes for a very unconvincing performance.
 
Despite all those promising signs this is an underwhelming First. On this occasion at least Harding doesn’t have a penetrating view of this piece; like Narcissus gazing into the pool, he seems mesmerised by its outward beauty rather than fully engaged with its inner shifts and subtleties. I suppose one could characterise this as a generalised reading, whose lack of shape and focus isn’t helped by some hesitant camerawork and a tubby sound familiar from some of RCO Live’s SACDs. On the evidence of this performance – greeted with enthusiasm in the hall by the way – I can understand why Harding is a polarising figure; that said, he’s only in his 30s, so perhaps his best Mahler is yet to come.
 
Jansons’ performance of the Second symphony – which uses an edition by Austrian musicologist Renate Stark-Voit and Mahler conductor/devotee Gilbert Kaplan – is everything Harding’s First is not. He directs a taut, nicely scaled reading of the first movement; tempo relationships are well judged, the playing combines refinement with terrific attack and, perhaps most important, there’s a strong feeling that Jansons understands the work’s architecture. The burnished woodwinds and silken strings are simply gorgeous, and the bass drum has enormous impact in those eruptive tuttis.
 
The precision and point of the Ländler-driven Andante is a joy to hear; the orchestra sound supremely elegant, and they play with a breath-taking transparency that brings out every nudge and nuance of this miraculous score. In the past I’ve felt Jansons micro-manages too much, which gets in the way of spontaneity and lift. That certainly isn’t the case here; indeed, I’d say this must be one of the loveliest, most naturally phrased accounts of this movement I’ve heard in a long time. The weird, wall-eyed Scherzo is no less engaging; rhythms are always supple and that pivotal trumpet- and harp-led tune sings out most beautifully.
 
In the presence of such unwavering musicianship one is inclined to agree with those Gramophone critics who declared the Concertgebouw the finest orchestra in the world. As for mezzo Bernarda Fink she gives a radiant account of ‘Urlicht’, although diction is sacrificed to her pure, seamless line. The long, taxing finale is unerringly paced and Jansons ensures it builds implacably to a light-drenched close. The off-stage brass are suitably distant and the choirs sing well, albeit with a rather soft grain. I was a little disconcerted by what sounds like unguarded vocalising from the conductor at the first appearance of the Resurrection motif and early in ‘O glaube’. Minor quibbles really. Jansons’ Mahler 2 isn’t as consistently satisfying – or as sumptuously recorded – as Chailly’s from Leipzig, but it’s still a very compelling account. See also David McConnell’s review of the Unitel DVD.
 
For many Abbado leads the field in Mahler’s Third symphony; on CD his Vienna and Berlin performances are long-time favourites of mine, and his Lucerne Blu-ray/DVD doesn’t disappoint either. Now rustic, now lofty, inward and exultant, this sprawling work reveals Mahler at his genial, open-hearted best; the highly disciplined start to Jansons’ account – a brace of horns to the fore – captures the exuberance of the piece, but the downside is that such precision robs the music of much of its bucolic charm. Also, those accustomed to the easy efflorescence of Abbado’s performances may find Jansons’ fractional hesitations a tad off-putting.
 
The playing is superb and the dynamics of this recording are very impressive, but try as I might I just could not engage with Jansons’ curiously under-characterised reading of the first movement. Kräftig, Entschieden it most certainly is, but where is the light and shade, the sharp wit and grinning parody? As for the Tempo di Menuetto it does dance, albeit with stiff joints. Such rhythmic inflexibility and a tendency to swoop and swoon are not what this fleeting, diaphanous music needs; true, the RCO give us a masterclass in orchestral virtuosity, but that’s simply not enough.
 
The Scherzo is problematic too; the posthorn is very distant, and instead of agogic pauses Jansons encourages a self-indulgent, soupy sound that doesn’t appeal to me at all. One only has to listen to Abbado to hear how a ‘straight’, unsentimental approach brings out the hushed intensity of this wistful dialogue. As expected, Jansons’ troops respond to those crunching tuttis with all the ferocity they can muster. Jansons also emphasises the martial quality of much of Mahler’s brass writing, to thrilling effect. What a pity there aren’t more of these telling touches, which could so easily turn a good performance into a great one.
 
Bernarda Fink’s ‘O Mensch!’ is beautifully sung, although her soft-edged delivery masks her consonants. As for Jansons, he verges on expressive overload here; this tends to happen when Mahler’s scoring is at its most transparent and demands the lightest touch. That said, the choirs sing well enough, but some may feel that Jansons exaggerates the dynamics somewhat. Indeed, the recording is a little too ‘hi-fi’ at times – the bass drum has an overpowering, Telarc-like presence – and perspectives aren’t always entirely natural. Still, I doubt that matters too much in the light of such committed playing.
 
The long, unfurling finale can make or break a performance of the Third. It doesn’t in this case; Abbado may sustain the natural rise and fall of this movement better than most, but from that mighty cymbal clash onwards Jansons and the RCO unleash an exultant surge of sound that’s as hair-raising as you’ll hear anywhere. What a splendid end to an otherwise uneven performance. Given that Jansons and his Dutch band have such a remarkable rapport – they play for him with a unanimity and passion that I don’t hear with Harding – it seems almost perverse to grumble about this detail or that. But that’s what reviewers do; so while Jansons’ Mahler 3 has its moments it doesn’t really rival the best in the catalogue, either on audio or video.
 
Iván Fischer, the Budapest Festival Orchestra and Miah Persson featured in an SACD of Mahler’s Fourth symphony that Leslie Wright claims ‘is the one to beat’ (review). As I’ve not warmed to Fischer’s Mahler thus far I wondered if this live RCO account would make a difference. The first movement, very well paced and articulated, has wit and warmth, and its contrasting sections dovetail most beautifully. Fischer, sans score, clearly has the measure of this effervescent work; indeed, he reveals a range of subtle colours and sonorities in the gorgeous, sun-dappled opening scene that one rarely hears in the concert hall, let alone in a recording.
 
The Scherzo is lithe and lovely, and Death’s Fiddle sounds more beguiling than ever. It’s a strange mix, to which the punctuating horn adds a plaintive charm. Fischer is extraordinarily communicative, and his expressive eyes and hands make plain what he wants from his players. He allows himself a little smile after that genial and uplifting display; in turn, the RCO seem intent on rediscovering the delights of this oft-played score. The third movement is a model of natural phrasing and fine dynamic control; the orchestra play with rapt intensity, their unguarded expressions of wonderment ample proof that this is a performance of unusual insight and stature.
 
Can it get any better? Oh, yes. My first reaction to Miah Persson in the child-heaven finale was consonants at last! Her winning blend of accuracy, animation and essential artlessness makes for an ideal rendition of this Wunderhorn song. Goodness, the sheer dynamism of her singing makes many of her rivals seem sphinx-like. Fischer, alert as ever, coaxes radiant sounds from his players. This is music of pure innocence, and I have never heard it so beautifully done. The profound spell is left to linger at the close, before being broken by a storm of applause and roars of approbation. This inspired and deeply moving account of the Fourth must surely rank high on the list of transcendent Mahler performances heard in this hall over the past 100 years. Yes, it really is that good.
 
After a paradigm-shifting Fourth comes an earth-shaking Fifth. >From its terrifying, seismic first bars Daniele Gatti and the RCO give a trenchant and propulsive account of this forbidding symphony. This Trauermarsch is every bit as gripping as Abbado’s (review), and its moments of inwardness and illumination are as cosseting as the big tuttis are fearsome. Gatti’s is a hard-driven Fifth, yet remarkably the first two movements never seem unremittingly so. The engineers have surpassed themselves too, capturing the thrill of this great orchestra in full flood.
 
Anyone hoping for some light relief in the Scherzo will be disappointed, for Gatti is in no mood for levity. Indeed, the wells of darkness here are bottomless, and I can’t remember being so profoundly disturbed by this music as I was here. The RCO never let up either; in that sense they’re very much like the Lucerners, whose playing for Abbado in this symphony is almost superhuman. As for Gatti’s Adagietto, it couldn’t be further from a dewy-eyed interlude. Darkly eloquent – stoic even – Gatti’s view of this love music is as unsentimental as it could possibly be without ever seeming curt or dismissive.
 
Gattidoesn’t dawdle in the Rondo-Finale either, and while Abbado is more spacious both leave one gasping at the close. If anything Gatti slams the door on this symphony more emphatically than most. As with Fischer’s Fourth, the applause is enthusiastic. Theirs may be two very different performances, but they have one thing in common: in an age of numbing ubiquity they offer thoughtful and very individual takes on these oft-played scores.
 
The Sixth symphony is conducted by Lorin Maazel, a maestro who often gets tepid reviews from critics – on this side of the Atlantic at least. I have positive memories of his Royal Albert Hall Mahler 8 from about 1980, and his Blu-ray of Wagner’s Ring without words evinces a sure grasp of large structures and a good ear for orchestral balance, both essential in Mahler. Older readers will remember his CBS Mahler cycle, which yielded a particularly fine Fourth. And for those who fret about these things, he opts for Scherzo – Andante in the Sixth.
 
For a conductor who’s often accused of being aloof Maazel finds a warmth – what some might call a humanity – in the first movement of this Sixth that reminds me so much of Abbado’s Chicago recording for DG. Those repeated rhythms – apt to chug – are nicely done, and Maazel shapes the music well. That said, he’s not as characterful as some – Pierre Boulez and the Wiener Philharmoniker on DG are peerless in this regard – although that’s hardly a deal-breaker when so much else goes right. As ever, the RCO sound utterly committed, and the recording is as good as anything I’ve heard thus far.
 
Maazel’s Scherzo is rather subdued, and its curious low and bleat is underplayed. Ditto those Altväterisch episodes. Rhythms aren’t always that supple either, and while this is a perfectly decent performance it sounds a tad routine at times. I also had some misgivings about the plush Andante which, although it has a strong pulse, has a rather soft edge. Still, Maazel builds tension superbly and he gives the music terrific sweep later on. It’s also good to actually hear the celesta playing its part at the ear-pricking close. Perhaps most important, the movement ends on tenterhooks, and that sharpens the sense of impending cataclysm – and makes a good case for placing the Andante just before the Finale.
 
There’s certainly an expectant buzz in the hall at this point, a mental tightening of seat belts as it were ... and what a ride it is. Normally urbane and unflappable, Maazel gives a hugely theatrical reading of the last movement that leaves one emotionally spent; and that’s as it should be, for this is one of the most wrenching finales in all Mahler. That sense of theatre extends to the hammer-blows – two of them – the mallet in the second rising like an executioner’s axe before it falls. As with Fischer’s Fourth, one senses the orchestra are gripped by the titanic drama unfolding around them. The audience – who appear to hold this octogenerian conductor in high esteem – respond with thunderous applause; and that’s also as it should be, for if this were Maazel’s last performance on earth it would be a splendid send-off. Bravo, maestro!
 
After a pause to collect my thoughts and regain my composure I plunged straight into Pierre Boulez’s account of the Seventh symphony. Critics and collectors are divided about the virtues of his CBS and DG Mahler recordings, although that unforgettable WP Sixth is probably one of the best things he’s ever done – period. I was much less impressed by his DG Seventh, so I hoped he would atone for that with this RCO Live performance. First impressions aren’t entirely favourable, as Boulez directs an ultra-lucid reading of the first movement; textures are clarified, rhythms are razor-sharp and leading edges are strongly defined. It’s so terribly metrical – almost dogged – and I don’t sense either the unsmiling maestro or his players are having a good time.
 
Alas, this is Boulez at his most detached and dispiriting; no it isn’t Notations, it’s Mahler, and a more yielding, less didactic approach wouldn’t go amiss here. As for the things-that-go-bump-in-the-nacht they’re humourless as well. I can’t recall a less communicative account of this quirky, elliptical score; the Scherzo simply refuses to gel and I longed for the affection and bounce that Abbado and his Lucerne players find in this music (review). As if that weren’t disappointment enough Boulez gives us a finale of unimaginable dreariness. Eyes on the score he looks as if he’d rather be somewhere else; frankly, if I were in the audience I’d have wished the same. Simply dreadful.
 
Jansons returns with the Eighth symphony; of the two versions I’ve seen on Blu-ray – from Chailly and Dudamel – the latter’s Bolivar/LAPO account is by far the most successful (review). Well controlled yet brimming with vitality it’s a performance that confirms Dudamel as a fast-maturing maestro whose charisma and talent might just take him to Berlin in 2018. Back to the present, and loading the Jansons disc I realised – belatedly – that these RCO Blu-rays have no subtitles. Really, that’s a lamentable oversight which, added to the lack of printed notes, is surprising in a premium-priced product such as this.
 
What of the performance though? Vocally it’s a strong cast, and seeing all those choirs, players and soloists on the stage certainly sets the pulse racing. Seconds into the opening hymn and it’s clear this is going to be an Eighth to remember. The organ is powerful without being overwhelming, the choruses are transported in the big tuttis and Jansons brings a thrust and urgency to the proceedings that I haven’t heard since Solti. Goodness, this is a fine performance, and I defy you not to be swept along by this mighty maelstrom. The well-matched soloists - dominated by the familiar tones of Christine Brewer and the unfamiliar but commanding ones of Stefan Kocán - are generally excellent; as for the huge dynamic swings of Part I they’re captured in sound of considerable weight and splendour.
 
The promising buds of Jansons’ RCO Second bloom most beautifully in the Eighth; nowhere is that more evident than in the myth-laden landscapes of Part II. He paces the music consistently – no odd pauses – and he allows it to breathe; also, there’s a warm glow to the playing that can’t fail to please. Longueurs there are none, and the soloists – with the exception of tenor Robert Dean Smith - are very robust indeed. The clear, crisp singing of the choirs is particularly welcome, and the closing minutes of this performance are stupendous. Despite a brief wobble in the final seconds – a rare lapse of concentration, perhaps – the organ is very convincing. The rapturous reception and standing ovation are richly deserved, but it’s Jansons’ return to the podium that really raises the roof.
 
Given Bernard Haitink’s role in the Mahler renaissance that took hold in the 1960s it’s entirely right that he conducts this crowning Ninth. I must confess, though, that for all his advocacy and manifold strengths in this music I never quite understood why his Philips recording of the Ninth was so highly regarded. For me at least there are many fine versions that dig deeper, and do justice to this complex and profoundly moving work. Perhaps age – mine, not Haitink’s – and the palpable sense of occasion afforded by this RCO concert would make all the difference.
 
There are few composers as nakedly autobiographical in their music as Mahler, but even then I’m cautious about reading too much into the notes. That said, there’s little doubt the Ninth is a life distilled, a procession of rememberings and regrets played out in score of aching loveliness and quiet introspection. Alongside Bernstein – in his last and most extreme account on DG – Haitink is plainer and more purposeful. There are no added histrionics, and that allows the symphony to unfold with a simple eloquence that’s deeply affecting. Indeed, the systolic beats of the timps, the stopp’d trombones and those wistful horns in the Andante comodo have a poignancy I don’t remember from Haitink’s Philips disc.
 
This is a Mahler Ninth – like Haitink’s LSO Alpensinfonie – viewed from the summit of a long and distinguished conducting career. It needs no gimmicks or intervention, and a more revelatory account of the second movement would be hard to imagine. In the face of tribulations to come these trills speak of ease and contentment; the RCO play with fabulous poise and point, adding to a powerful sense of reawakening and rediscovery. It’s remarkable that even after all these years this and the music of the Rondo-Burleske can still sound newly minted; that’s rare – and most welcome – in a crowded and all-too-unvarying field of Mahler 9s. In that respect this performance is a perfect companion for the Fischer Fourth.
 
Nothing quite prepared me for Haitink’s view of the long, dissolving finale; measured but never self-indulgent, despairing but not hysterical, this Adagio ebbs and flows most beautifully. The orchestral blend is as close to perfection as you’ll ever hear, and the recording’s refulgent bass lowers the music’s centre of gravity to telling effect; indeed, it’s an unforgettable sound that brings to mind Sergiu Celibidache’s unique way with Bruckner. As for the many epiphanies of this valedictory movement each and every one is indescribably moving. At the end Haitink acknowledges a deep-ocean swell of applause and affection. Typically self-effacing, he calls on individual players to take a bow as well.
 
As superlative as Fischer’s Fourth is, this Ninth is in another realm entirely. I doubt the RCO’s ageing conductor laureate will ever frame a more authoritative account of this great work – and it’s all captured in superb sound as well. Quite simply this is the most complete and compelling performance of Mahler’s Ninth I’ve ever encountered, as much a tribute to s great orchestra as it is to a most distinguished and much-loved maestro.
 
An ‘almost is’ or a ‘never was’, whatever one’s view of the Tenth it can – and often does – work very well in the right hands. Simon Rattle’s Bournemouth and Berlin recordings – both of which use Deryck Cooke’s completion – are indispensable additions to the Mahler discography. I found Mark Wigglesworth’s recent Melbourne CD somewhat variable – review – but as far as I’m aware this RCO/Eliahu Inbal account is the only Cooke Tenth on Blu-ray. That said, there’s a performance of the Clinton Carpenter completion from Lan Shui and the admirable Singapore Symphony on Avie. As for the professorial Inbal, I remember what could have been a decent Mahler 2 at a City of London Festival some years ago; sadly the cavernous acoustics of St Paul’s did for the performance as surely as a stiletto between the ribs.
 
The Adagio of this Tenth goes quite well; Inbal is perhaps more lyrical than intense, although those trumpet-topp’d tuttis are mighty indeed. The recording copes well with thesedynamic extremes, and the sometimes gossamer-light string writing is especially well caught. It’s only in the first Scherzo that the doubts begin to surface; as much as I admire Cooke’s realisation of Mahler’s sketches I find textures can sound threadbare, and there are ill-concealed gear changes too. Perhaps it’s a result of listening to all the symphonies and coming to this Tenth right after the micrometer calibrations of Haitink’s Ninth that makes the former sound somewhat rough and ready.
 
Then again Rattle is much more convincing in terms of echt-Mahlerian sonorities and thrust than Inbal, so it’s not just about the score. One has to remember Cooke’s is a ‘performing version’ and that means the conductor has to make far more interpretive decisions than might otherwise be the case. That said, I find Inbal much to brisk – and not a little brash – in the Purgatorio, whose many seams are apt to gape. After the sheer discipline shown in the earlier symphonies the RCO aren’t at their unanimous and sophisticated best, either.
 
Alas, it doesn’t get any better; the second Scherzo grates and even the dark elegy that is the Finale – complete with dramatic drum thuds – is much less affecting than usual. Suffice to say, if this performance were my introduction to Cooke’s – or anyone else’s – Mahler I’d not be persuaded. Along with the Harding First and Boulez’s Seventh this uneven and untidy Tenth is eminently forgettable.
 
As Fabio Luisi doesn’t appear to have much of a history with Mahler – on record at least – his Totenfeier and Das Lied von der Erde are the wild cards in the set. The former, a symphonic poem later reworked into the first movement of the Second symphony, is a rare and entertaining oddity lasting some 20 minutes. Unsuspecting listeners might think they’d stumbled across an extremely brisk performance of the Resurrection; in the event Totenfeier is an intriguing glimpse of a work in progress. The skeleton is recognisable, but it’s fascinating to hear how Mahler eventually fleshed it all out; even more instructive is noting how sometimes small changes of scoring and dynamics transformed this uneven fragment into its final, definitive shape.
 
On to Das Lied von der Erde, which opens with an impetuous and none-too-subtle account of the drinking song. One can only sympathise with Robert Dean Smith; not only does he have to deal with Mahler’s taxing tessitura but he also has to struggle to make himself heard above the orchestra. That said, his voice isn’t particularly robust or distinctive, and there are audible - and visible - signs that he’s not too comfortable here. As for Luisi, he has a jittery podium manner that I find very distracting; also he wields his baton like a rapier, bringing the song to a close with a murderous thrust.
 
This work really underlines the need for subtitles, as not all viewers will be familiar with either the song titles or texts. The lack of liner-notes means they don’t have printed versions to fall back on either; unforgivable omissions on both counts. Back to the music, and Anna Larsson, a seasoned Mahlerian, gives a strong if not very insightful performance of Der Einsame im Herbst. Perhaps she’s not always as secure as she once was, but she certainly has a pretty good idea of how this song should go. I have misgivings about Luisi though; he’s competent enough, but I don’t warm to his Mahler ‘sound’ and I find him a tad anonymous at times.
 
Sadly, the same goes for our tenor in Von der Jugend; he still doesn’t look or sound at ease, and the orchestral accompaniment is woefully short on atmosphere. Larsson is just fine in Von der Schönheit, although I sense Luisi isn’t listening to his singers very carefully; indeed, there are times when it seems soloist and conductor are working to a slightly different beat. Smith’s pinched upper registers are even more apparent in Der Trunkene im Frühling, and his lower ones aren’t very warm or rounded either.
 
Larsson delivers an eloquent farewell, despite Luisi’s somewhat mannered phrasing and odd rhythms. Generally I find this performance – like the Harding First – too self-consciously ‘interpreted’. In the most illuminating concerts – Fischer’s and Haitink’s – the conductor seems to melt away and we come much closer to what the composer intended. On the strength of this Das Lied von der Erde I’m not at all convinced that Luisi is a front runner in this repertoire. It’s a real pity that this otherwise splendid set should conclude with such a disappointing disc.
 
So, if you want all the Mahler symphonies on Blu-ray and conveniently packaged this RCO box is your only choice. If they were available separately I’d happily acquire the stand-out performances – Fischer’s Fourth, Gatti’s Fifth, Maazel’s Sixth, Jansons’ Eighth and Haitink’s Ninth – and that would be pricier than the entire set. That said, there are aspects of presentation that need to be addressed. I’ve already grumbled about the lack of on-screen captions, credits and subtitles, but I have to say the visuals leave something to be desired as well. The pictures are sharp and the colours are true, but there are some jerky pans and ill-judged close-ups that are very distracting. Also, in some of the concerts the applause ends rather abruptly, with no attempt at a clean or elegant fade. Finally, framing is an issue at times, with weird, disembodied shots of conductors’ arms and hands; the effect is disconcerting, and it looks very amateurish.
 
This is a very decent survey, with some top-notch performances; presentational issues are a let-down though.
 
Dan Morgan
http://twitter.com/mahlerei
 
Detailed listings
 
Symphony No. 1 in D major (1884-1888, rev. 1906) [60:00]
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Daniel Harding
rec. 30 September 2009
 
Symphony No. 2 in C minor Resurrection (1888-1894; revised edition by Renate Stark-Voit & Gilbert Kaplan) [90:00]
Ricarda Merbeth (soprano)
Bernarda Fink (mezzo)
Netherlands Radio Choir
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Mariss Jansons
rec. 3 December 2009
 
Symphony No. 3 in D minor (1893-1896, rev. 1906, K. H. Füssl Edition) [103:00]
Bernarda Fink (mezzo)
Netherlands Radio Choir
Boys of the Breda Sacrament Choir
Rijnmond Boys Choir
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Mariss Jansons
rec. 3-4 February 2010
 
Symphony No. 4 in G major (1899-1900) [61:00]
Miah Persson (soprano)
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Iván Fischer
rec. 22-23 April 2010
 
Symphony No. 5 in C sharp minor (1901-1902) [76:00]
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Daniele Gatti
rec. 25 June 2010
 
Symphony No. 6 in A minor Tragic (1903-1904, rev. 1906) [79:00]
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Lorin Maazel
rec. 20 October 2010
 
Symphony No. 7 in E minor (1904-1905) [80:00]
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Pierre Boulez
rec. 20-21 January 2011
 
Symphony No. 8 in E flat major Symphony of a Thousand (1906) [87:00]
Una poenitentium - Camilla Nylund (soprano)
Magna peccatrix - Christine Brewer (soprano)
Mater gloriosa – Maria Espada (soprano)
Mulier samaritana – Stephanie Blythe (alto I)
Maria aegyptiaca – Mihoko Fujimura (alto II)
Doctor marianus - Robert Dean Smith (tenor)
Pater ecstaticus - Tommi Hakala (baritone)
Pater profundus - Stefan Kocán (bass)
Bavarian Radio Chorus, Netherlands Radio Choir, Latvian State Choir, National Children’s Choir, National Children’s Choir (Junior)
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Mariss Jansons
rec. 4 & 6 March 2011
 
Symphony No. 9 in D major (1908-1909) [93:00]
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Bernard Haitink
rec. 13 & 15 May 2011
 
Symphony No. 10 in F sharp minor/major (1910) (ed. Deryck Cooke) [77:00]
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Eliahu Inbal
rec. 30 June 2011
 
Totenfeier (1888) [25:00]
Das Lied von der Erde (1908-1909)* [68:00]
*Anna Larsson (alto)
*Robert Dean Smith (tenor)
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Fabio Luisi
rec. 18 & 20 May 2011

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