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People sometimes laugh when I tell them how I ever came to Classical Music in general. It must have been in the early 1990s, I was about 12 or 13, and was a Synthesizer nut. Jarre's Oxygene and Equinoxe represented, as it were, my musical world (and I can still recommend every board member here to immerse yourself in those compositions, especially Equinoxe, kind of Jarre's Nachtmusik).

But I also enjoyed other Synthesizer music. So I came across Arcade's Synthesizer Greatest series, which I believe originally came from the Netherlands, but was also available in the States. As a part of that series, two volumes were dedicated to Synthesized versions of Classical Music pieces. OK, many representations were quite.... corny. But I enjoyed the music, and it made me extremely curious about how they sounded when played by real strings, real brass, real woodwinds, real percussion! The rest, as they say, is history ( ;D)

Mahler entered my life when I was about 14. And what an entry it would be. Before that, I was always somewhat intimidated by the sheer length of his symphonies as seen on the back of the CD's. You must take note, that before that, the longest symphony I ever sat through was Haydn's Philosopher (still a great gem) or Mozart's Haffner (another great gem). And a lot of people told me Mahler's music was very severe, some even called it depressing!

But as I always was a very inquisitive person, and was curious if Mahler was really that severe and depressing, I took the plunge.

Because of the daunting challenge which Mahler appeared to me at that time, I decided to start with the shortest. You guessed it: The Fourth. I can remember it as if it were yesterday, and picked the DG Galleria reissue of Karajan/Mathis/BPO. I had no idea who Herbert von Karajan was, neither was I interested in the orchestra, Mathis, or the CD label. In that period of my life, I bought Classical Music just because of the title of the music which appeared on the CD cover, and the price range was certainly a deciding factor  :-[ The Karajan 4th was available at that time, at that precise moment in the shop... and on sale  :P

OK, enough embarrassment  :P Because I don't think there could have been a better recording to start with at that time.

The first time I listened to the CD, it was very hard for me to connect to the music, because it basically sounded, at least at the beginning, as some kind of Mozart - what the heck, do I really hear sleigh bells? Is this Christmas? - but the music was much, very much heavier than any Classical Music I heard before. It wasn't because I didn't connect to the melodies! It was the much thicker sounding orchestra, those constant increases and decreases in volume, the changes of mood taking place in a single movement which I simply did not hear in Mozart, Haydn, you name it...

It was hard. Especially when the innocence of the start of the first movement transformed into the middle section, where two huge climaxes appeared. Phew! That's over! My ears begged for the return of the more softer, easy going first minutes of this movement. It was too much drama to me at that time!

Same holds true of my reaction to the Ruhevoll movement. What a beautiful, serene melody. But then the music increased volume again. It was rather unsettling, again not because of the melody, but the sheer weight of it. You can only imagine my shock when the climax appeared. It was like a bomb exploding in our back yard (but to be frank, Haydn's Surprise also caught me by.... surprise). I was more shocked than pleased with what I heard. It was, to be frank, 'uneasy listening' for me at that time, and I felt truly sorry for my eardrums, which weren't accustomed to this kind of sound!

The Finale was probably the biggest challenge to sit through. I had never listened to any form of Classical Music in which the human voice took part, and it took me quite some time to come to terms with it.

But when all is said and done.... I listened to it again. And again. And again. And again. And one day, I felt the click. The things I hated about it a couple of days before actually where the things I started to love, and love dearly. Five days after purchasing the CD, I was actually whistling the themes from the Fourth in the shower. Now, is there any greater tribute a music lover can pay to a composer...?

So my introduction to Mahler was his Fourth, when I was 14, and for very sentimental reasons the Karajan/Mathis/BPO production ranks highly in my collection, even to this day. And it's a great performance, with rich and warm sound! Yes, very Karajanesque, that's for sure, but it works splendidly in that work, even more so in his great recording of the Fifth, which a lot of people sneer at just because it's conducted by Karajan. Which, by the way, is conducted magnificently by Karajan!

Then came the First, the Fifth, Third, Sixth, Seventh, Ninth, and all the rest...... The start of a never ending love affair. As Edith Piaf would put it, 'Non, je ne regrette rien'.
Mahler, in general, was responsible for the fact that I came to appreciate and love vocal music. I was blown away when I first heard the First, Fifth, later the Seventh, Ninth, etc..... but I always, regrettably, gave his songs and vocal symphonies a wider berth. In hindsight, I can't fathom why I felt that way back then, but after reading the posts in this topic, I can see I wasn't alone in this.

The Eighth is, what, 80 to 90% about music where voices can be heard? If you would have asked me 25 years ago if I was prepared to sit through the whole thing, I would probably and reluctantly have done so, with the telephone number of my psychiatrist at hand! (OK, slight exaggeration... but you get my point).

To me, the human voice is like any other musical instrument. It has to be motivated by a thought, a story, a wish, a longing, a love, an ideal. Without that, it doesn't speak to me. That's why I really like opera, but the story is crucial to me. I could stay up all night listening to La Bohème (Puccini, not Leoncavallo), but I would return to bed when asked to sit through Bizet's Carmen. It's a superficially exciting work with many of 'opera's greatest hits', but I just don't connect to it. To each his own. Verdi is a giant, but I would prefer almost every Puccini opera to the former's.
I was the same way as Vehemence when it comes to the Eighth. For the longest time I didn't listen to or like the Eighth because of the vocal aspect (as with Das Lied von der Erde), but now it's one of my favorites. The more I listened to it, the more I liked the singing. I come from an orchestral background (percussion), so singing was on the opposite side of the spectrum for me. I would actually consider Mahler's Eighth to be the work that got me interested in vocal music in general. Now I'm slowly but surely approaching Strauss, Wagner, and Puccini operas. I'm relatively young (25), so the world of opera is understandably daunting and feels like an entirely different beast than the orchestral repertoire I'm so acquainted with.

It was Kent Nagano's recording that convinced me that Mahler's Eighth is indeed a masterpiece. The glorious sound of this recording with the voices balanced equally with the orchestra is what allowed me to approach it comfortably. That's still one of my favorite recordings, but my top choice is Stenz followed by Chailly/Concertgebouw. The Bertini is amazing too. As a whole, this piece seems to have so much magical essence that when listening to a recording all the way through it almost never fails to satisfy (given the vocal soloists are good).

All of Mahler's symphonies are flawed (most obviously the structure of the inner movements of the Second and Sixth), but I find the Eighth to be perhaps the least flawed along with, arguably, the Fifth. That's just an opinion, of course.
It's extremely difficult to pick just one favorite (besides Mahler), but if I had to choose one it would be Beethoven's Eroica. It is just flawless to me, and I can never tire of it. There is no piece of classical music I know better than this symphony. Manfred Honeck's release last year was a game-changing recording and it’s my new favorite, but I'll always return to Karajan and Solti. Here are some of my honorable mentions:

Scheherazade by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Is it a symphony? Pretty much. I admire every moment of this most colorful work. I have a special fondness for Russian composers. The third movement, The Young Prince and the Young Princess, is one of my favorite symphonic movements. I also really like the meter changes in the fourth movement as well as the imaginative percussion writing.

Symphonie fantastique by Hector Berlioz. This is the piece that got me hooked on classical music to begin with. It started it all, back in college. I love its journey, from hopeless romanticism to pastoral loneliness to opium overdose to diabolical orgy. What a trip! I still haven't gotten around to Harold en Italie, but I imagine I would like it. Michael Tilson Thomas with San Francisco is my absolute go-to recording. One of his better accomplishments, in my opinion.

And, as previously mentioned, Rachmaninoff's Second Symphony. Every note of this symphony is pure bliss. I have so many memories tied to listening to this symphony in many places. Just like Roland Flessner mentioned, I prefer this symphony uncut with the first movement exposition repeat. My all-time favorite recording is Gennady Rozhdestvensky with the London Symphony Orchestra, however lately I've been appreciating Vasily Petrenko with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.

I also love Brahms' First Symphony. In fact, it's hard to choose which of Brahms' symphonies I like most, but it's probably the First. I'm also a big fan of his Third. Andris Nelsons' recent release of the four symphonies in Boston was incredible, in my opinion.

Dvořák's Eighth and Ninth Symphonies are incredible pieces to me. I performed his Eighth and it quickly became one of my favorite symphonies of all time. Manfred Honeck's release with Pittsburgh is my top choice for that one.

Do symphonic poems count? If so I'm going to throw in Eine Alpensinfonie and An American in Paris.
Just kidding about falling asleep  ;D

40 bucks is a great deal of money indeed... But I always say, if it's worth the outlay, what the heck. I haven't listened very much to Vanska's performance...

Maybe the Frankfurt/Järvi performance is a good alternative, but I have to confess that I don't know that cycle very well. In addition, I always prefer CD audio (or some other variation) than a DVD performance. Maybe those performances should also be issued on a separate CD, or even in a duopack accompanying the DVD. This is why I also haven't payed much attention to Chailly in Leipzig...

How do you feel the Frankfurters have developed in their Mahler, ranging from Inbal to Järvi? Inbal, to my ears, had very good sound, and the orchestra was certainly excellent, but not essentially characterful in Mahler. How does Järvi's orchestra rank in that regard?
No, no - I wasn't listening and falling asleep   :o

No matter how you slice and dice it, it's going to run $40 or more!  A friend of mine who deals with Japanese imports got it for me through Amazon Japan. With the shipping, it came to pennies above $40.

The good news is that I can jettison the Vanska/Minnesota M6. It's excellent in the inner two movements, but much less so on the outer two (good offstage cowbells, however). The P. Jarvi is nearly almost as good in the inner two and far better with the outer two. I'm reluctant to recommend purchasing the Paavo Jarvi, based on its outrageous cost. It might be worth seeing if it eventually gets a U.S. release - maybe.

Another option would be to get the dvd of Jarvi doing M6 with the Frankfurt R.S.O. You can get that used through Amazon. It's also very good, but was performed in a rather 'boomy', reverberate church. 
"I got to run - I'm falling asleep."

Probably not because of this recording, I trust :D

That's great news, the conditions you describe are very promising (S-A order, two hammer strokes, good sound, contrast).

I'm really tempted  ::)
I love it. I think it may be my favorite overall M6 in my collection, as all four movements are really solid. It's in scherzo/andante order and with two hammer-strokes in the finale. The timings are quite similar to Boulez/V.P.O., only Paavo Jarvi makes a bit more contrast between fast and slow sections. The playing of the NHK Tokyo is outstanding throughout, while RCA's colorful sound quality is equally outstanding.

The beginning of the scherzo starts almost immediately after the coda to the first movement. I got to run - I'm falling asleep.
I like Rachmaninoff symphony #1 because it's the most overtly Russian sounding one - closer to Rimsky or Borodin. I love the trumpet fanfares (with percussion) that starts the finale, as well as the series of tam-tam strokes at the end of the finale.

for Prokofiev, I really like P3, P5 and P7. Of the five piano concertos, I love the 2nd and 3rd ones. I also like the solo piano sonatas.
Hello Roland,

What a bouquet of Russian greats  ;D

It's funny you mention the 'less accessible' Prokofiev's, because I also admire them greatly, and their uncompromising nature is very much what I hear and admire in Vaughan Williams's Fourth!

Maybe it's just me, but I tend to have a great fondness for underdogs. That's why I crave Mahler's Seventh so much, not only because of its wonderful music, but also very much out of frustration that people often call this one of Mahler's 'least known works'. Yeah, of course it's one of the least known, but that's not Mahler's fault! It says a lot more about these people.

I can get frustrated when I see today's orchestras programming the same old tired main repertoire, like Prokofiev's Classical Symphony. There's nothing wrong with that work, but there are inordinate amounts of performances and recordings of that symphony, lesser so the Fifth, while the true greatness of Prokofiev, imho, can be found in the other symphonies! I also have a fondness for his Seventh, it has great atmosphere, almost ethereal!

The Third symphony is very, very contrasted, with a lot of what people not familiar with classical music would probably call 'noise', but the quieter sections are almost unbearably lyrical, mysterious, foreboding. Wow...

Rachmaninoff 2 is an endless stream of melodies coming straight from the heart, masterfully paced and orchestrated. The Adagio is almost erotic (note the climax) and that's not a criticism! If the coda of the Finale doesn't leave you with a warm glow, you're a better man than I am  :-[
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