Mahler: Symphonies Nos. 1-10
Audio CD | Hybrid SACD
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After four years in the making, DAVID ZINMAN and the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich completed their highly acclaimed cycle of Gustav Mahler's complete symphonies. The entire cycle is now available in a limited edition box set with bonus DVD.
Box Set Details:
15 SACDs in cardboard sleeves with original cover art.
DVD featuring Viviane Blumenschein's film documenting Zinman recording Mahler's Symphony No. 6.
82-page booklet with complete tracklisting, liner notes, and lyrics
Top customer reviews
Well, Mahler fanatics are like Wagner fanatics, organ fanatics etc., etc., and individual taste can be important with composers of complex works. Quite different approaches can still be valid, excellent performances. Choosing each symphony individually may be the way to get a collection that suits you. But it is also interersting to get sets like this, to hear a masterfull conductor's concept of the composer's intentions on interpretation is something worth considering. To analyse this complete set in any depth, would take more time than I can spare. It also would (could!) arouse a host of varying criticisms due to different ideas on interpretation. So, I am going to take another, shorter approach.
Consider. You have discovered Mahler, have pondered with buying a complete set, but that ain't cheap if you want modern recordings all with the same orchestra and conductor. - usually. So, where do you head?
Well, on the whole, Horenstein has always been my favorite interpreter. He recorded all but the second, and sadly, while well-known and respected in Europe, was less known in the English speaking world. But those who have discovered his Mahler, usually hold it in great respect (with a little inconsistency). He was the first conductor to conduct the Eighth in stereo (1959), with the largest forces ever assembled for recording this work (760) still, and the results are astounding. Having stated where my greatest preference resided, amongst a great scattering of performances, I have only two complete sets - The Tilson-Thomas series with the San Fransisco Orchestra; taken all round, it is reasonably good, with excellent engineering for the SACD releases, but they did have trouble managing a credible performance of the Eighth. It remains, in my opinion, the weakest performance in the series (and I have six versions for comparison). But it is full price, and as a set, I really would not recommend it.
Zinman is a conductor who has come to my notice in recent years with an outpouring of music with the highly accomplished Zurich Tonhalle (Tone Hall = Concert Hall, thanks to a comment) Orchestra (an excellent Richard Strauss collection comes to mind), as well as various lighter releases (especially of film music) [EDIT oops, I am thinking of something else] with the City of Prague Philharmonic , which I can't help but think might be a pseudonym for a session orchestra in England. [EDIT see a comment below] I'm probably wrong. But be it light music, or serious music, his recordings have always proved to have good performances (that Zurich orchestra is really outstanding) with top-notch engineering. And this set of Mahler symphonies is consistent with his other releases.
Now, various enthusiasts might point to assorted aspects of these interpretations, but most will end up saying that it is quite a good set overall. And remember, it is the only complete one, to my knowledge. So, if you wish to explore Mahler without paying a lot of money by exploring many recordings, this set provides reliable interpretations, with excellent playing and excellent sound. Later, when familiarity grows, you might find you want different specific interpretations of the various symphonies, but this provides a good starting place. Zinman reveals a deep understanding of the scores, the orchestra providing a polished sheen that makes me think of the Dresden orchestra. His performances of the choral symphonies are played and recorded with great transparency and balances between soloist, choir(s) and orchestra.
And I would recommend it to Mahler aficionados as well, to find that there are little-known (to us) orchestras on the continent that equal, and in some cases, are superior to the well-known orchestras from the English-speaking countries. The recordings are SACD, but have a CD layer as well and so are compatible with CD players. It's interesting, but about three years or so ago, the major labels stated they would not be releasing any more SACDs, although a trickle has been constantly emerging from Europe. Lately, I have two Sony releases from 2010, and this set is on RCA. Seems the big guys are having second thoughts. [EDIT These now appear to be among the last few. But the sound is really stunning, having the smoothness of analog].[Edit 2016; since writing this review, there has been a great resurgence of the SACD format, which now florishes]
So, I have no hesitation in recommending this set to anyone interested in the complete Mahler Symphonies. I don't think you will regret your purchase. All you will regret is the length of this somewhat meandering review.
There's also nothing spectacular about it either, although it's often quite solid. The single word that comes to mind is 'competence.' Zinman has, through rehearsals and concerts, shaped this into an excellent orchestra, and he moves the music along steadily and sanely. He doesn't always have a lot to say, however, and listeners may prefer that, although, of course, Mahler demands that you respond to him and speak to him, that's the point of the music and of his expression.
The "Wunderhorn" Symphonies are consistently good, and the Symphony No. 1 disc includes the "Blumine" orchestral movement, which is valuable. But if that's your criteria for purchase, then I would point you to Mahler: Symphony No.1 in D Major - "Hamburg, 1893" Version of the Symphony with "Blumine" fully integrated. The Symphony No. 4 is absolutely lovely.
Mahler becomes the Mahler we know with the Symphony No. 5, and Zinman's performance is acceptable but anodyne and entirely forgettable the moment it passes. He has nothing to say about the chaos and reformation of the music, the journey from darkness to light. However, the Symphony No. 6 is excellent, the highpoint of the set. Then it's back and forth from there; a solid Seven, good Eight, forgettable Nine and a fine Ten.
I am aware, as a Mahler lover, that there is pretty much no distinction for this composer between listeners and collectors, and it's very, very hard to resist the siren song of a complete set. This one is will be hard to resist, and the beautiful sound means you will not ever regret purchasing it, even if you find that you don't pull it off the shelf as often as many others.
Most recent customer reviews
Great interpretation. Excellent recording quality