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The Mahler Symphonies

A synoptic survey by the late Tony Duggan (1954-2012)
1st Edition completed 1997

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Preface (for 2006 revision)

Symphony No 1
(revised Feb 2006)

Symphony No 2
(revised March 2006)

Symphony No 3
(revised April 2006)

Symphony No 4
(revised May 2006)

Symphony No 5
(revised August 2006)

Symphony No 6

(revised May 2007)

Symphony No 7

Symphony No 8

Symphony No 9

Symphony No 10  

Das Lied von der Erde
New survey by Ralph Moore 2020

Mahler Songs

Boxed sets


My synoptic survey of Mahler recordings first appeared in 1999 which means that in 2006 it is now high time for revision and updating. Not that my opinions as to what makes great Mahler recordings have changed in any way. Rather that the landscape of what is out there in terms of recordings on the market has. In the intervening years there have been many brand new Mahler releases to consider for inclusion, many of which I have reviewed individually on new release. There have also been reissues of older recordings aplenty. Which has meant that CD numbers and liveries have changed for some of my prime recommendations and also thought needed to be given for inclusion of versions that had to be missed first time round. There have also been the welcome official issuing of many recordings that were hitherto only available on "pirate" labels. It is a real and abiding pleasure to now report that most of the recordings which were at the very core of my original recommendations in this survey that were in hard to find and poor sounding issues are now easily available, sounding better than many people dared hope. You will see that this is marked by details of the new release and my own comments regarding the improved sound. Finally even more issues from radio archives have appeared but this time the trend towards master tape official releases now means that the days of "special pleading" for a concert or broadcast recording in terms of sound and availability is largely over.

All of these aspects have gone into the revision of my Mahler survey which you now have before you. However, just because there have been many new recordings and newly reissued recordings since this survey first appeared doesnít mean to say that there are the same number of recordings to be added to it. Most of my original recommendations still stand and are only reinforced by the passage of time. What you will find new here are mostly additions to the core "must haves".

This survey was never intended to be exhaustive or definitive and this has not changed. It was always intended to be a personal selection of Mahler recordings that I considered to be the crème de la crème. Mahler has been a very lucky composer on record and so the choice for inclusions has always been very hard to make. I have frequently rejected for inclusion recordings which, on their own, have nothing wrong with them in terms of performance and sound. Rather I have been concerned with selecting, sometimes ruthlessly, what I consider to be recordings of exceptional quality and importance. This latter point is often at the back of my inclusion of recordings that seem to have something important to tell us in the history of performance, especially when you the collector might be thinking in terms of building a profile of recordings of one work. No conductor has "the last word" on any Mahler symphony and so it has always seemed to me that the ideal is to own a number of recordings of each work. That is not to say that I have neglected to consider those who regard one recording of each work as enough, most especially those new to Mahler or even to classical music. I hope all kinds of collectors, new and seasoned, can be catered for here. Mention of "seasoned" Mahler collectors prompts me to place here what I frequently have written to those kind enough to contact me. Just because your own special favourite recording is not mentioned by me, or is mentioned only in passing, doesnít mean to say that I have never heard it. It could mean that I have heard it, even rated it quite highly, but have decided, in the end, that it did not meet my crème de la crème criteria or fall into any of the special historical category that I have already mentioned. I can only repeat that the opinions expressed in the foregoing are those of this author, foibles and all. I have this time tried to include min "round up" some recordings which nearly "made the cut". I hope this is helpful and goes some way to assuaging my more enthusiastic critics.

As always I take the quality of the interpretation and the performance as my first priorities over the quality of the recorded sound. In an ideal world a great performance and interpretation would always be accompanied by great sound, but this is not an ideal world. I will never discard a great performance just because the sound needs some apology. Where it is the case that a great performance needs "special pleading" in terms of the recorded sound you will see that special pleading and also suggestions as to the recording, or recordings, I would point as alternatives for those to whom sound is of greater importance. The same applies to the question of inaccuracies in playing. Those who know my writing on Mahler from this survey and my reviews know that I value "live" recordings greatly. Believing that the extra frisson that "the concert hall as theatre" brings can on occasions more than outweigh any fluffs or mistakes in the playing. However, since I know that this matter is a consideration for many people I hope that also is taken into account in alternatives given. Great playing does not necessarily have to mean playing that is always accurate throughout. Of that I remain convinced.

As before, where it is the case that there is more than one recording of a work available from a particular conductor whose interpretation I admire then I make a decision on which of their recordings to include. There are, after all, many examples of conductors having two or even three "goes" at Mahler symphonies. It is interesting, however, just how often the first thoughts seem to be the best ones. One matter on which I have relaxed a rule in this revision is the question of recordings that are not, at present, in the catalogue. What is or is not "in the catalogue" is something of a movable feast. Recordings come in and go out of the catalogue with alarming frequency. What is available in one country can frequently be available in another, and one of the biggest changes since this survey first appeared is the ease with which collectors can now obtain recordings internationally via the Internet. In train with this is the explosion in the second-hand market on various well-known auction sites. So, even if one of my favourite recordings is no longer available where you live, you might well be able to find one somewhere else or, failing that, track down a good second-hand copy. This will account for incidences of "out of catalogue" recordings now appearing with some confidence that a prospective buyer will be able to get it.

It is a sobering thought to realise that I have now been listening to and seriously studying Mahlerís music for nearly forty years on record, on the radio and in the concert hall of both the body and the mind . It is this experience and this experience only that I offer as justification for the opinions and choices that follow. I hope you find them helpful and stimulating. If you find them neither, then I hope that disagreeing with them has only deepened your appreciation of Gustav Mahler.

Tony Duggan

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