It was bound to happen sooner or later: pretty much everything known by Mahler put into one box (16 cd's).EMI and DG–which also drew on the catalogues of Decca and Philips–have each produced complete-edition boxed sets to coincide with the 150th anniversary of Mahler's birth. One set seems like an inexhaustible treasure trove; the other one is more like a mere assemblage of all of Mahler's music.
It is all too easy to take Gustav Mahler's symphonies and orchestral songs for granted in the 21st century's first decade. More than ever before, concert performances and recordings of these works abound, and at a level of proficiency that reveals the remarkable extent to which musicians worldwide have assimilated the composer's idiom. Given the music's primacy in today's central orchestral repertoire, we forget how the great Mahler advocates of the past had to champion his music in the face of adversity. "Who can bear those monstrous symphonies, those over-blown, out-of-date horrors," asked one leading music critic when the New York Philharmonic launched a Mahler Festival to celebrate the composer's 1960 centenary.
You will probably be as incredulous as I was to learn that the greatest cycle of Mahler symphonies comes not from any of the usual suspects - Abbado, Bernstein, Chially, Haitink, Kubelik, Rattle, Sinopoli, Solti, Tennstedt - but from the unsung Gary Bertini, who spent the better part of his career as music director of the Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra. Unlike any of those more publicized sets, each of which includes a misfire or two, Bertini is consistently successful from first to last; his performance of each of these works can stand comparison with the very best available.
The musical reconstructions industry keeps gathering pace, but few works have attracted as much attention as Mahler's 10th Symphony. Joe Wheeler (who died in 1977) was a brass-playing British civil servant with a passion for Mahler. This completion (itself in an edition by the conductor here, Robert Olson) uses the leaner orchestration of the composer's later years. But does it sound Mahlerian? Certainly more so than Remo Mazzetti's 1997 version, but neither caps Deryck Cooke's acute sense of authentic detail and color in his legendary edition.
The Barbirolli Societys latest release is a 2-CD set of the complete concert given in the Free Trade Hall, Manchester on 20 October 1960, with the combined forces of the Hallé and BBC Northern Symphony Orchestras. The concert consisted of Nielsens Symphony No.5 and Mahlers Symphony No.7. Michael Kennedy, writing in 2000, stated: Performances of the (Mahler) Seventh were much rarer then than they are today, and Mahlerian scholars and enthusiasts flocked to Manchester for the event, among them Deryck Cooke who was profoundly impressed by Sir Johns ability to make the works structure cohere. This was an especially significant comment coming from Cooke, who harboured many doubts about the symphony and confessed to finding it most problematical.