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.
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 "Who can bear those monstrous symphonies, those over-blown, out-of-date horrors," asked one leading music critic when the New York Philharmonic launched a Mahler Festival to celebrate the composer's 1960 centenary.
Most recordings of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 1 in D major present it as it was published in 1899, in the definitive four-movement version. Yet an earlier state of the work was the 1888 tone poem Der Titan, which not only lent its title as an unofficial nickname for the work, but also contained the Blumine movement, which Mahler dropped from the final score. Curiously, many modern conductors have incorporated it back into the symphony as the second movement, even though its slow tempo and sentimental mood break the momentum and excitement created by the joyous first movement.
When at last it was revealed what Mahler’s final intentions were regarding the ordering of the inner movements of his 6th Symphony, 90 years of theory, history, & performance practice went right out the window. For theorists, it altered the harmonic structure of Mahler’s A minor Symphony. For historians, it modified the meaning of Mahler’s “Tragic” Symphony. For players & conductors, it changed the musical progress of Mahler’s 6th Symphony. For listeners, it made Mahler’s deepest & darkest symphony even deeper & darker. With the achingly nostalgic Andante moderato now coming before the bitingly bitter Scherzo, the triumph of the opening Allegro energico sounds even more hollow & empty & the collapse of the closing Allegro moderato sounds even more final & total.
Fans of Gustav Mahler's joyous Symphony No. 4 in G major will relish this buoyant performance by Ivan Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra, featuring soprano Miah Persson, for it is wholly in keeping with the light tone and merry spirit of the score and is as delightful as any other recording on the market.