Comparison Recordings of Mahler Symphony
Abravanel, USO. [ADD] Vanguard CD OVC
Rafael Kubelik, Bavarian Radio SO. [ADD]
Dmitri Mitropoulos, Minneapolis SO [ADD
mono 1940] Sony MHK 62342
When Maurice Abravanelís
recording of the Mahler 8th Symphony
was released most of us were surprised.
We sort of expected the credits to list
the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, but, no,
it was the University of Utah Choirs
instead. No matter, they did a terrific
job with the work, and we privately
figured there was a lot of personnel
overlap; just how many good choral singers
could there be in Salt Lake City? But
then when a complete Mahler cycle with
Abravanel was announced, most of us
scoffed. At the time the press was busy
discussing Mahler by Bernstein,* Walter,
or Kubelik and everything else was dismissed
from the same over-familiarity as Eugene
Ormandy. Since he conducted "everything,"
the automatic assumption was that everything
would be equally mediocre, and critics
as usual tended to hear what they expected.
But now we realise
that both Ormandy and Abravanel (excuse
me, M. de Abravanel) did
everything well. They were conservative
conductors in that they were not flamboyant
or showy, but they were nonetheless
skilled craftsmen, and their recordings
are still attracting interest when some
of their more sensational contemporaries
are no longer heard of. And this Mahler
First is conservative. It expresses
well the charming orchestral argument
at the finale of the first movement,
but eschews the ironic and bitter, almost
satirical, frenzy, found in the last
movement, which is best expressed in
the ancient but still venerable Mitropoulos
performance from 1941. Even Kubelik
and Adrian Boult get more sarcasm in
the funeral march slow movement than
Abravanel, who works for dignity, balance,
beauty of sound and phrase.
In terms of sound quality
this Abravanel recording now moves to
the very top of the list as a DVD-Audio.
Effort was made to find the actual original
session tapes in the tape vault from
which to digitise the sound. The orchestral
detail is superb, the powerful climaxes
every bit as overwhelming as they should
be. The extras on the disk are apt and
truly interesting; we get photos and
press reviews of Abravanel, a biography
of Mahler, and a speaker set-up utility.
We do not get the blumine movement,
however, which I think is a shame, but
Iíve got a couple of performances of
it I can insert in performances, such
as this one, which omit itóthanks to
CD player programmability.
I believe that this
was originally a two (or maybe three)
channel stereo recording and that the
surround sound is derived in the laboratory,
but it is better done than usual and
you may prefer it, or you may prefer
to play back the two channel tracks
through your surround sound decoder.
We are promised the rest of the Mahler
Symphonies by Abravanel and I know some
of them were originally 4 channel masters,
notably the Third, and Sixth.
*I find Bernsteinís
Mahler uniformly intolerable. In his
hands Mahlerís anguish becomes bombastic,
melodramatic and cheaply theatrical.