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Gustav Mahler and Related Discussions / OT: Alpine Symphony
« Last post by Vehemence on April 16, 2021, 03:17:08 PM »
I was doing a deep dive on some trumpet related stuff and stumbled across this brass ensemble version of The Alpine Symphony. This was arranged by Phil Snedecor, and performed by the Banff Brass. They are the staff of the Banff brass workshop. Anyway, this is pretty incredible, and contains some of the most insane trumpet parts I've ever heard. It's 20 minutes of playing on your face. The sound of this live must have been monumental.
I don't mind it so much. His Berlin Philips cycle was cancelled before they got to his M9. I still sort of dream of it being recorded...just never released. Maybe it would've been a dud. Anyway...I look forward to this as soon as it hits Amazon's digital library.
Haitink’s new M9 will be the next digital release. The second movement is now on Spotify, and next week we’ll probably get the rest of the symphony.

Admittedly I’m least excited about this one. Haitink already has two damn-near perfect M9s (his original one on Philips and the BRSO one from about 10 years ago). The BRSO one was basically just a remake of his original, so at least with this new one he has something new to say: it’s 10 minutes slower.
Haitink is a master of this symphony, but a Rondo-Burleske that’s over 15 mins long? Really? We’ll see how that goes. Gielen’s studio account approaches 15 mins, but with him we get a heavy, grotesque, gnarly reading, almost like it’s heavy metal.
Hi Nick. Good stuff. Your comment about the brass being "too soft edged"    .     .    .   that's my general complaint about the BPO playing Mahler in general. I think the hall swallows a lot of the 'highs' in the sound - that's pretty much all I can figure. The tone of the orchestra is generally rather 'dark', and the edges are smoothed off - just as you describe. It's like watching a black & white film noir, where there's too much black to the tint, and not enough of the lighter shades to make a good contrast (if you know what I mean).

As I said to someone else, if this very same set were with the Dresden Staatskapelle instead, I'd probably snap it up in an instant. I may still purchase the download of it though.

I would certainly second all those recommendations you’ve made, though honestly I haven’t listened to either Kubelik in a long while. Time to pull that out of his DG complete box and give it a spin. I must say the Tilson Thomas LSO is quite high up the list for me.

I do understand what you mean about the Chailly, but the wind playing, particularly in the first Nachtmusic is pretty much peerless to my ears.

I haven’t heard the Tabakov yet, no.


Nick, thanks for the fabulously written review. I share pretty much the same sentiments regarding Rattle's BPO M7. I like the pacing, and the playing is great, but there is definitely such a thing as Mahler that sounds 'too good,' which is not all that common with other composers. Another one I can think of off the top of my head is Shostakovich, and it makes sense because Mahler and Shostakovich are very similar composers. You want your Shostakovich to sound tight and exciting, but not too clean; it needs that bite and snarl.

The Rattle BPO M7 is very nice to listen to, and I can possibly recommend it to a first-time listener in order for them to get a grasp on the musical elements, but for a serious recommendation on Mahler's characterful intentions one ought to stick to Bernstein, Abbado (Chicago or Berlin), Kubelík, Chailly, and Gielen. Probably Tilson Thomas with the LSO too. I don't like Chailly's finale all that much, but that's just personal preference. I like a faster, rougher, naughtier finale as opposed to the more steady-handed regal approach.

Some recordings that are refined can work really well, in my opinion. Those are Zinman, Vänskä, Nott, and Dudamel. I think the trick here is that the orchestra members have to actually still try to play this difficult music, as opposed to the Berliners who could basically play this music in their sleep.

Oh, and Stenz still has the best finale of anyone.

By the way, as far as Mahler 7 goes, has anyone heard the Tabakov recording? It's rough, gritty, admittedly not all that well-played, but exciting as hell. One of the best finales I've ever heard, clocking in at 16:28. Like I said, the playing is not perfect, but it has a lot of character and you can tell that the Bulgarian musicians are playing like their lives depend on it.
I’ve just listened through the 7th from the set and thought I would share a few listening notes.

Overall, the recorded sound is good, though I needed to wind it up a bit to get decent focus. Pacing and tempi seem to work throughout, with everything thought through nicely. But there is a lack of hard edge to brass; edges are smoothed, leaving everything very neat and tidy.

In the first movement, the explosive march a few minutes from the end, with piccolos going nuts over the top, is very underplayed as an example of what I mean above. The moonlight sounded beautiful, benefiting from glorious blend. But overall the movement needs the piquancy of Concertgebouw brass and winds, which it doesn’t get here. Pacing all makes sense, so it’s an enjoyable listen, but it’s all cultured rather than characterful.

The 2nd movement has great horns at the start; there’s a sense of space and darkness, but it does take a moment for the main tune to find its feet. Characterless woodwinds in the first few minutes, with
cowbells barely audible leave it a bit cold. The bells sounded more like one of thos guys with cymbals strapped to his knees. The oboe song in the middle is hauntingly beautiful and everything is very well-paced. But when the brass come in and herald the second, tango section they miss bite in the grinding change from major to minor. It’s typical of the performance in general. All beauty but no real colour. When the brass bring back the main march, they are very refined but no bite. Compare that to Abbado’s ringing Brass in Chicago, which is almost monumental in comparison. The wailing woodwinds at the start of the scherzo don’t really wail at all. It’s a bit of wind in the doorway rather than a ghostly sound. String playing and tone are both phenomenal. String playing is varied and wonderfully detailed. In particular there is fantastic handling of glissandi. Some great low brass contributions too. The winds are really blended too well, though. And I would have liked a lumpier waltz, which is a bit metronomic. I prefer a bit more disorientation. Oboe solos are insanely beautiful, though. Is that what we want at this stage? It’s certainly atmospheric.

In the 4th movement the mandolins are nice and clear. The movement has lots of repose. Very relaxed indeed, in fact, with a real cushion of sound. It’s all totally without any piquancy and missing character. Strings again very songful. Rightly or wrongly the sophistication of the blend is astonishing. The solo Cello and Horn conversation works beautifully, where the horn tone expands nicely. It’s a fabulous blend at that point.

Even in the finale Rattle seems to be trying to hold on to the beautiful blend, which he does rather well. But I like more of a riot. This is a relaxed riot and has nothing like the weight of Abbado in either Chicago or Berlin. The sunrise seems to be near the Arctic Circle.

But look, I enjoyed it for the pacing and beauty. But the moment anyone turns to Abbado, Bernstein or Chailly or any number of versions where the winds and brass let rip they would feel the Rattle was too cultured and basically not Mahler. I have 50-60 7ths in my collection (more now we all have access to streaming) yet I would listen to this again. But I am very glad I have others.

All best


Just my thoughts.
I have a copy but have not started it yet. I was thinking of trying the 7th first.
I watched the Rattle M8 on the BPO website (paid subscription) and found it to be better than his CBSO account in nearly every way. Hopefully they use the same performance for the cycle. Even better, hopefully they patch in stuff from other nights and rehearsals. That's what it seems like they're doing so far. A live M7 with a quick and exciting finale and no applause? I don't buy it! Ha
We'll see. The Dudamel M3 may be a selling point for me. I have the DG 'twofer' of Abbado doing M3 with the BPO. It's OK - nothing THAT special, to me. I do like that it has all those extra tracks within each movement. As for M5, I've always liked the Karajan. We know Petrenko's M6 and Rattle's M7 are quite good. Rattle's M8 will be my other 'selling point'. We get a slow Haitink M9 too, and that's fine. The B.P.O. always does a good M9. I couldn't care less about Abbado's M10/Adagio - I would never judge the set by that.

If this same line up conductors had been done with the Dresden Staatskapelle, I'd probably snap it up in an instant. They're more 'colorful' sounding. I find listening to Mahler with the Dresdeners more interesting and involving, some how. I think the Philharmonie swallows up a lot of the color in the sound.
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