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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


BARGAIN OF THE MONTH - Gustav MAHLER (1860 – 1911)
Symphony No. 1 in D Titan (1898) [54.39]
Symphony No. 2 in C Minor Resurrection (1896) [33.54+51.05]
Symphony No. 3 in D Minor (1906) [32.31+65.32]
Symphony No. 4 in G (1910) [56.35]
Symphony No. 5 in C# Minor (1902) [72.22]
Symphony No. 6 in A Minor (1904) [39.10+44.36]
Symphony No. 7 in E Minor (1906) [77.39]
Symphony No. 8 in D Symphony of a Thousand (1906) [77.55]
Symphony No. 9 in D (1909) [44.48+36.11]
Symphony No. 10 in F# Minor (Adagio) (1910) [22.56]
Symphony No. 10 in F# Minor completed by Deryck Cooke (1976) [70.49]
Das Lied von der Erde (1909) [61.20]
Helen Donath (soprano) Doris Soffel (alto), Chorus of NDR Hamburg and the Dale Warland Singers, (No. 2).
Doris Soffel (alto) Limburger Domsingknaben and Women’s Chorus of the Frankfurter Kantorei, (No. 3).
Helen Donath (No. 4).
Faye Robinson, Teresa Cahill, Hildegarde Heichele (sopranos), Livia Budai, Jane Henschel (alto), Kenneth Riegel, Herman Prey, Harald Stamm (bass), with the Choir of Bavarian Radio, NDR Choir, WDR Choir, RIAS Kammerchor Berlin, Limburger Domsingknaben and Children’s Chorus of Hess Radio, plus Fritz Walter-Lindqvist, (organ) (No. 8).
Jaard van Ness (alto), Peter Schreier (tenor), Das Lied von der Erde.
Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Eliahu Inbal
Recorded as follows, all at Alte Oper Frankfurt: No. 1 – 28th February – 1st March 1985, No.2 28th –29th March 1985, No.3 18th – 19th March 1985, No.4 – 10th - 11th April 1985 No.5 – 23rd – 25th January 1986, No.6 – 24th – 26th April 1986, No. 7 – 14th – 17th May 1986 No.8 – 14th 18th October 1986 No.9 – 24th – 27th September 1986 No.10 (Cooke) 15th – 17th January 1992, Das Lied 24th – 25th March 1988. DDD
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 92005 [15CDs: 54.39+33.54+51.05+32.31+65.32+56.35
+72.22+39.10+44.36+77.39+77.55+44.48+36.11+22.56+70.49+61.20]

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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 proceedings.

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 the Frankfurters.

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 and turgid.

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 assured.

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 Mahler fans.

John Phillips



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