About the only thing missing in this Mahler
cycle from Inbal and his largely Frankfurt forces is the Blumine
movement from the First Symphony. Recorded originally by Denon
from whom these recordings are licensed this box makes an incredible
bargain for the impecunious collector, with all the symphonies
on 15 CDs for under £30.00. Even by today’s standards this is
a major coup.
However, a bargain is only a bargain if the performances
and recordings are also competitive, and in this example, they
generally are. The sound quality is similar in all works (understandable,
since they were all recorded in the same venue in just over a
year. Overall, we have a bright sound with the upper brass being
particularly noticeable, not a bad thing in Mahler). The only
fault with the recording quality is that the bass end is a little
lacking, even with the organ in No. 8.
The brilliance in the high brass is particularly
noticeable at the climax of the scherzo in No. 5, and this is
one example where the sound enhances the performance.
With the First Symphony, we have a very straightforward
interpretation balancing tenderness and brilliance perfectly,
and whilst I would not put this at the top of the pile of the
numerous available recordings, it would be well up the field.
The Resurrection, Symphony No. 2, suffers from
extreme variations of speed, particularly in the first and second
subjects of the first movements. Once these are over, the performance
takes flight and soloists and choir add to the excitement of the
Symphony No.3 is very fine, somewhat reminiscent
of Inbal’s performance of the work at the Proms a couple of years
back when he stood in for an indisposed Bernard Haitink. The fact
that this Proms performance made a not inconsiderable impact when
our expectation was from Haitink, points to Inbal’s pedigree as
a Mahler interpreter.
I enjoyed No. 4 very much with Helen Donath’s
contribution in the finale being first rate. We have largely middle
of the road tempi with no major distortions very well played by
No. 5, I have already mentioned and this also
has a modern rendition of the Adagietto, drawn out to over 11
minutes, but still no competition to Bernstein V.P.O., because
of the relative straightness of the interpretation.
When we come to No. 6, complete with requisite
cowbells, very well balanced, a very fine performance is to be
had, although the relatively lightweight recording is a disadvantage
here. If we make a comparison with my own personal favourite performance
of the sixth (Karajan/BPO) Inbal does not compete. We have two
hammer blows in the finale, very well recorded, but sounding a
bit feeble because of the deficient low bass.
No. 7 is more of the same, although I must say
that I enjoyed this relatively maverick symphony of the Mahler
canon, with the brightness of the sound intensifying the overall
impression, which sometimes can sound comparatively oppressive
In No. 8 the anaemic bass is a real problem.
This symphony when recorded properly, as with the Solti/CSO single
disc performance, recorded in Vienna by Decca, is earth shattering.
It leaves a permanent impression in the mind. I am afraid that
this is not the case with the Inbal version, although all of the
forces give a good account of themselves and the direction is
The emotion of the Ninth is quite restrained,
and there is none of the Haitink or Karajan surety of pace which
makes their readings such an experience.
The Tenth Symphony gets two outings here, the
Adagio as written by Mahler, and the Deryck Cooke completion to
the performing version made in 1976. There is less competition
here as many eminent Mahler conductors look upon this completion
with some suspicion. Recorded six years after the remainder of
the cycle, the sound is a little fuller, but without the deep
quality present in other recordings such as those by Riccardo
Chailly on Decca and Simon Rattle on EMI. It is fairly straightforward
and enjoyable but without that extra something.
When we reach Das Lied von der Erde, we have
the one failure of this whole cycle. It is spoiled completely
for me by the fluttery quality of the alto voice of Jard van Nes.
I find this quite difficult to listen to in all but the shortest
of passages, and in the course of almost half an hour for Der
Abschied, it becomes intolerable. I have heard this singer in
other roles, and have not been similarly affected, so it is possible
that she had a bad day when this was recorded.
So, in conclusion, how does this package stack
up? It is well worth the modest price asked (under £2.00 per disc),
and compared with the competition, welll … there is none. For
the price it cannot be beaten. The set is also accompanied by
a 44 page booklet, giving details of the Composer, the Works and
how they fit into the European music scene. Full texts and translations
are supplied. Unfortunately for non-English speaking listeners,
these are in English only.
A highly recommendable issue for impecunious