…needs no introduction. Dates maybe, just to make the comparative chronology clear? 1860-1911. And realize that it’s about as contemporary with Debussy as it can get: 1862-1918…
One of my ambitions is to do critical/comparative discographies of all his symphonies, in chronological order of recording. I’ve already started (on Amazon.com) with symphonies Nos. 5 and 9, and to a lesser extent (and most of it not published on Amazon) No. 7. With Mahler with all the other “warhorses” (Beethoven, Brahms….), it is interesting and illuminating to see how interpretive traditions set in, that end up having less to do with the score than with listening to one’s recorded predecessors… There is, somewhere in the first movement of the 7th, a certain unwritten rallentendo that was first introduced by Bernstein and then was picked up by almost everybody. Not that it’s unmusical, mind you… with Bernstein, what could be unmusical? But it’s not written in the score, and with Mahler being the conductor that he was, you can easily presume that he wanted everything that was in the score, and nothing that wasn’t… It’s also fascinating, of course, to observe in Mahler as in Beethoven, Brahms and all, how over time, from the first recordings in the 1920s to the 1960s, tempi dragged on, how weight set in over momentum. It’s nowhere more typical than with Walter: just compare his fabled 1938 live 9th Symphony with the Vienna Philharmonic, to his remake as an old man 23 years later on Columbia: first movement 24:40 vs 29:14, Finale 18:04 vs 21:02. I’m not saying this to disparage one against the other. There are some who find him impossibly fast and unfelt in 1938: I like both. To me the Finale “works” as much with the harrowing passion that Walter 1938 infuses it with, as with the “time of a standstill” atmosphere of Levine’s extreme 29:47 in 1979. But just observing the interpretive and emotional evolution is fascinating.
My comparative listening (and Amazon reviewing) of the 5th stalled somewhere with the recordings from the 1970s… and that of the 9th, I know: it included Giulini’s (and also Bernstein’s extraordinary live performance with the Berlin Philharmonic on DG) but fell just short of Levine’s. I need to resume, really.
I’ll list only those that I have reimported here. It’s just beginning.
Symphony No. 9
Klemperer New Philhmaronia Orchestra 15-24 February 1967, EMI