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Roland, I just checked the score for M4-I and you’re totally right about the tam-tam at the climax. It’s funny how recordings can change our expectations of what the music is supposed to sound like… until we look at the score.

That tam part is doing the bell-thing like you said at mf, and everything around it is building in volume. At the downbeat of the climax, the tam is at ff… but so is the rest of the orchestra including the woodwinds! And it’s not accented either, so you’re right in that a big smash would be out of place. In fact, the following instruments are marked even louder than the tam at fff: bassoons, horns, timpani, and high strings. The tam is indeed supposed to be a part of the overall darkening of the texture.

Thanks for causing me to look more into this! Totally reshapes my understanding of this moment.
Thanks for your kind words, Eric!

Our tastes and preferences evolve over time. That's one reason my CD shelves are a roach motel; I can't get rid of recordings I don't like because one day I may change my mind.

The last time I went through an M5 obsession, I was favorably impressed with Bertini, a recording I had thought uninteresting previously. Though we must allow for slightly murky SQ, it's a strong performance all the way through. At the big climax in II, it's also an example of a tamtam that, while perhaps not as prominent as it should be, is both powerful and well integrated into the texture.

As a non-Mahlerian example, I'm very fond of the Jansons/Pittsburgh Shostakovich 8. I just think it's a high water mark for both a compelling performance and excellent SQ. As the second Scherzo reaches its ferocious climax, clobbering the bass drum and tamtam fff three times, it is a cathartic moment. The tamtam is extremely powerful, yet doesn't scream; something being held in reserve. It sounds like a physically large instrument, whether or not it really was.

Also on the subject of Shostakovich, several years ago the Harris Theater here in Chicago presented a chamber version of the 15th Symphony. Sounds like a crazy idea, but it worked surprisingly well. (All the percussion parts were intact.) In the last movement, those quiet strokes on the tamtam were wonderful: deep, mysterious, and atmospheric. The instrument in question was a Zildjian, no larger than a 36, possibly a bit smaller.
Roland, for me that was some very fascinating stuff you mentioned about the tam-tam moments. Of course myself being a percussionist (and a younger guy at that) I want my big exciting smashes. But what you said about the importance of both context and the blending of texture really resonated with me (no pun intended).

Because of that, I'm beginning to think some of the big moments like the one at the end of the trombone solo in M3-I, the one at the climax of M4-I, and the one at the ending climax of M5-II should be felt more than heard. I was always bummed about the Chailly cycle recordings always letting me down at the first and third moments I just mentioned, but perhaps that was intentional (especially when Chailly, a percussionist, nails pretty much every other detail in his cycle). And I was also always a bit let down in the studio Kubelík M4 when the tam is lost in the texture at the big moment, but like you said maybe the textural blend is intentional because the moment works regardless.

And then, like you said, there are always moments that call for more impact than "feel," like the big one in M9-I.

I do still think the two big hits in M1-IV should have a louder attack, only because it's sort of a call and response with the cymbal clashes (Mahler echoed this idea again at the end of M3-III). But what you said is also totally valid and I'm going to take it into deep consideration going forward as I pick apart recordings.

Thanks for saying that, seriously. Great stuff.
I'll be glad to mention some of my acid tests. First, let's address the tamtam situation.

I used to want to hear a big crash, the louder the better, but I've moderated this desire. What I like to hear these days in a loud part is a deep, powerful, complex sound that extends into the bass range. Good example: De Waart/Minnesota at the eruption in M1-IV. (Keep in mind that Mahler marked this part only forte.) In some cases I'm OK with a loud tamtam that is not so prominent, almost as much felt as heard, woven into the texture.

In M4-I, the tamtam is marked fortissimo at the climax, yet until then it's been making more of a bell sound. Therefore, I think a big smash is out of place, though it should be powerful and prominent. I'll say the same about M7-V, as regards a bell sound.

In softer parts (M1-III, M4-II, M7-II [this list could be much longer], a deep, mysterious, shuddering sound is what this doctor ordered.

Moving on to tempo, Mahler always left detailed instructions and I'm really annoyed when conductors ignore them. Some examples:

M9-1: In bar 129, the cellos play three ascending pickup notes, then continue with the lead melodic part for several bars. At bar 130, Mahler calls for an abruptly slower tempo ("Plötzlich sehr mässig und zurückhaltend"). Many conductors slow down before the bar line, which ruins the effect.

M9-2: Leading up to bar 523, the dance has become increasingly frantic, and the horns are playing their ascending four sixteenth notes absurdly fast. At the bar line, however, Mahler wrote "Tempo 1. subito," indicating an abrupt return to the opening Ländler tempo. Many conductors make that transition gradual, slowing down for several bars before landing at 523, thereby ruining one of the the composer's best jokes.

As Eric said, a performance that flunks these tests is not necessarily a bad one, but I maintain a special regard for those that pass.
Too many new, unfamiliar (to me) conductors for me to speculate (I know you're not supposed to use "me" twice in the same sentence).
Off the top of your head who would be some good American candidates?
It'll certainly the make the search for a new M.D. interesting, if not also exhausting. Perhaps Morot will take back the reigns. Some have speculated that American orchestras may begin hiring American conductors again, due to all of the travel and work permit hassles today.
You’re probably right. Like I said, Morlot has recorded some great stuff with Seattle, including plenty of contemporary stuff and an Ives cycle (the No. 2 is very good).
I just have a hunch that Marot will knock it out of the park. I think it might be an M6 for the ages. Maybe. The orchestra would have to have his back.
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