WORKS: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 2; Symphony No. 3; Symphony No. 4; Symphony No. 5; Symphony No. 6; Symphony No. 7; Symphony No. 8; Symphony No. 9; Adagio from Symphony No. 10
PERFORMER: Soloists; choirs, Bavarian RSO/Rafael Kubelík
CATALOGUE NO: 463 738-2 ADD Reissue (1967-71)
This is home, or it should be, for any prodigal Mahler-lover weary of extreme gestures and fat sonorities. Thorough reacquaintance with Kubelík interpretations long overlooked – especially his Sixth, Eighth and Ninth symphonies – convinced me that his is the golden mean of urgent forward movement, supple change of gear and the wisdom to know where more space or emphasis than the score indicates is really needed (supremely his own rallentando into the blazing return of the ‘Veni, creator spiritus’ in the Eighth Symphony and the three heavenward leaps before the big collapse of the Ninth’s first movement). The Bavarian strings, sinewy rather than sensuous, benefit from the extra space of the later recordings, which include the famous account of the Adagietto used in Visconti’s Death in Venice. Yet the placement of first violins ranged with basses left, second violins to the right, always pays off and goes some way to accounting for the unremitting textural clarity of the performances (reinforced by ever-characterful woodwind with an uncanny knack for the grotesque).
The set follows the fashion for slimline presentation, previously adopted by Philips for Haitink and EMI for Tennstedt, though there’s been no change since its fatter incarnation – still one symphony per disc except for the Third, and no attempt to accommodate Fischer-Dieskau in the song cycles. As for consistency, only the admirable Edo de Waart (RCA) competes in time-span and unity of vision. Until Rattle completes his cycle – the first to end, as it surely should, with the Cooke performing version of the Tenth Symphony – there can be no healthier overall survey. David Nice