Author Topic: The dawn of the first great recordings of Mahler's Seventh  (Read 312 times)

Offline shawn

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The dawn of the first great recordings of Mahler's Seventh
« on: July 12, 2019, 04:19:09 AM »
Which recordings do you rate as the first great Mahler Seventh's?  :D

I always refer to the first great recordings (imho) of Mahler's Seventh as The Big Three. A lot of people call them great, but in the end everyone is entitled to their own assessment.

Just for this moment concentrating on what I call The Big Three, I wonder which one, in your opinion, is the finest or the most important? Here are my personal thoughts.

The contenders:

- Bernstein, 1965, New York Philharmonic
- Haitink, 1969, Concertgebouworkest Amsterdam
- Kubelik, 1970, SO des Bayerischen Rundfunks

General note: these outings are often considered high points in the cycles of these conductors.

First of all, I think Bernstein has the more incandescent reading of the three. It's not merely a pioneering effort in recording it at all, but it has a considerable amount of drama as well. In contrast, Haitink strikes me as more reserved, more objective (though not as dour as he would become in later years  >:(). Kubelik is very natural, highly detailed, but not as incandescent or atmospheric. For instance, Kubelik's speed for the first movement's introduction is too fast, making it almost impossible to provide a clear contrast with the upcoming faster sections.

The playing. Of the three, Haitink arguably has the better orchestra. Kubelik's is probably the least successful. The Bavarians are enthusiastic, but not in the same class as the others. The occasionally sour intonation of the trumpets may become bothersome.

The sound. Again, Haitink is the winner. Philips had a reputation for their recording quality, and it certainly shows here. Kubelik's is more brighter, more up close (which, sometimes, also painfully exposes some dicey playing). Bernstein's sound is very good, but hardly high definition. The most recent remastering has brought it more to life, but I feel that it has also exacerbated the shrillness of the higher notes.

Overall: I tend to favor Bernstein. It carries a lot of conviction for this underdog Mahler symphony. Haitink is a good alternative if you want a more middle ground, but beware of his complete non-happening of the final build-up of the Rondo (yes, I like my Seventh to end with a bang). Kubelik is still special, but not perfect. Its directness will be a clinching point for many, but musicality trumps poise and mystery in the Czech's point of view.

Other notable recordings from that time? Horenstein's keeps popping up, but I find it rather uneventful, lacking imagination. The sound is a bummer for the late 60's - that it was recorded live is no excuse!

Solti? Certainly impressive, imposing, but also rather blunt. His Rondo sounds like a parody of a parody. If you like this music being shoved in your face, then this baby is for you.

Abravanel's was even earlier than Bernstein's, and it's an excellent reading, reasonably good sound for its age, but the Utah orchestra is nothing special.

Barbirolli's (BBC Legends) was also an earlier candidate, and the orchestra does quite well considering this was a mostly unknown work back then, but I don't agree with the conductor's interpretation and often dragging tempi.

Scherchen was clearly an early advocate of the work, and he treated the Seventh better than other Mahler symphonies, where he sometimes imposed his ridiculous cuts. I don't like his Toronto rarity. He did much better in Vienna.

Rosbaud is a solid contender, though not as uninhibited as I would like it to be. Maderna (Vienna Symphony) is hardly accomplished, and the sound does not help.

Neumann's Leipzig Seventh is his better realization of this work, though I have a soft spot for the Czech Philharmonic's woodwind section.

Van Beinum (1958) offered a very lively Concertgebouw live recording. It took me great pains to find this recording. Its murky sound is a trial, however. But it doesn't conceal that Beinum's has a lot going for it. I particularly like the gear shifts in the Rondo. The second Nachtmusik moves at a blissfully flowing pace, every nuance perfectly observed. This Seventh is one of the fastest ever recorded... but it doesn't sound rushed. Now there's a quality.

And then there 's Klemperer, on the complete other end of overall timings. He may illuminate many orchestral passages and detail, and there is certainly conviction, but it's a very, very long journey indeed.

Getting back to Bernstein: For a while, I only knew his DG account, because it was more readily available. When I heard his Sony account, I was flabbergasted by the contrast. It's basically the same interpretation, but 1965 sounds more natural, with more finesse. 1985 is much more imposing, vulgar (?), decadent. I do not know which one suits me best. If it wasn't for the dreadful hard and dry (digital!) sound, DG would probably be my favorite of the two. Well...

Which recordings do you rate as the first great Mahler Seventh's?  :D

Offline Vehemence

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Re: The dawn of the first great recordings of Mahler's Seventh
« Reply #1 on: July 12, 2019, 06:59:01 AM »
Personally I would take the raw, searching power of Kondrashin with Leningrad or the RCO, over any of these recordings. His ability to juxtapose the different sections and eek out every little rhythmic, and harmonic nuance is up there with any other great conductor of this work. And, he gives a damn exciting reading, while still maintaining a more 'romantic' view of the work, but not letting it go to far down that path. He really tried to straddle a more modern with sentiment  with the older idealized version that came before.

Offline barryguerrero

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Re: The dawn of the first great recordings of Mahler's Seventh
« Reply #2 on: July 12, 2019, 02:14:43 PM »
Yes, and then there's Kondrahin's 'western' recording of M7 - a live and lively performance with the Concertgebouw. It stayed in print for about seven minutes. I like Kondrashin in M7, but I like the '65 Bernstein and '69 Haitink just as well. I also like Scherchen's more moderate Vienna M7, more than his Toronto one.

There exists at least four Mahler 7's with Hatink. The best of those, IMHO, is the one is in the Kerstmatinees set (1985). That's not to be confused with the digital remake that Haitink made for Philips in the early '80s. There was also a Berlin Phil. one on Philips. None of them are bad, of course. Here's the Kerstmatinee one on Youtube.


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