Gustav Mahler's Symphonies: Critical Commentary on Recordings since 1986

Gustav Mahler's Symphonies: Critical Commentary on Recordings since 1986

Gustav Mahler's Symphonies: Critical Commentary on Recordings since 1986

Gustav Mahler's Symphonies: Critical Commentary on Recordings since 1986


Critically reviews all recordings of Mahler's symphonies released since 1986. Together with Smoley's earlier volume (1986), virtually every commercial recording ever released of Mahler's symphonies is discussed in an objective manner.


The Mahler symphony boom continues. in the nine years that followed publication of my 1986 volume, The Symphonies of Gustav Mahler: a Critical Discography, 650 new recordings have been issued — more than were made in all of the preceding years. This volume includes the completion or commencement of complete cycles by such noted Mahlerians as Abbado, Haitink (his second with the BPO), Bernstein (both on cd and video), Ozawa, and Vaclav Neumann (his second), as well as other conductors entering the field for the first time (e.g., Leif Segerstam, Gary Bertini, Hiroshi Wakasugi, Neeme Järvi, Giuseppe Sinopoli and Edo DeWaart).

It now seems incumbent upon virtually every prominent conductor as well as young hopeful to try his or her hand at at least one of Mahler's symphonies. Many have gone much further, recording several if not all of the symphonies. the latest crop of young maestros, while cognizant of past interpretive traditions, often approaches Mahler's music in a very personal manner, diverging considerably from both the score's many directions and the more conservative interpretive traditions of the past. the diversity of interpretive approaches to Mahler's symphonies has increased measurably during the past decade, now that Mahler's music has been widely accepted and frequently performed.

In earlier years a certain sense of authenticity attached itself to interpretations by such notable Mahlerians as Bruno Walter, Otto Klemperer and Jascha Horenstein, because they either knew and worked with Mahler or came into their profession in the wake of his heyday. Other conductors who championed Mahler when it was not fashionable to do so (e.g., Dimitri Mitropoulos, Sir John Barbirolli, Leopold Stokowski and Hermann Scherchen) built upon the traditions established by the "Germanic school" of conductors within the context of their individual stylistic orientations.

Leonard Bernstein offered a "modernistic" approach. He infused his readings with more energy and unnerving intensity than his predecessors and often heightened emotive or dramatic effects. While controversial, Bernstein's approach had merit and made a major impact, capturing the imagination of an audience coming to Mahler's music for the first time and dramatically increasing Mahler's popularity. in addition, his work inspired numerous divergent approaches to Mahler's symphonies which, in their enormous scope and remarkable diversity, are unique in the history of classical music interpretation.

In view of this deluge of heterogeneous interpretations, it is necessary that reviewers articulate the various criteria upon which their critical approach is based. Consideration should be given to a combination of factors, including the presence or absence of a conceptual overview for each piece, treatment of Mahler's detailed markings, evocation of contrasting moods, rendering of musical effects, and determination of tempi and their extraordinarily frequent modifications.

Mahler often said that he creates a "world" in each of his symphonies. This statement is key to any interpretive approach to Mahler's work, for without the conceptual overview it . . .

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