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Exemplary live Mahler from an underrated conductor and orche
J. Gillon | North Carolina | 08/19/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The Dutch have a strong tradition in and identification with Mahler. Willem Mengelberg, who conducted Mahler's works often in the fifty years he led the famed Concertgebouw Orchestra, was in the audience when Mahler premiered his Third Symphony at Krefeld in 1902. Soon after, he persuaded Mahler to visit Amsterdam (one of four such visits) where the composer conducted the First and Third Symphonies. Mahler was surprised and pleased to find the Dutch musicians disciplined and talented and his audience intelligent and receptive. The admiration was mutual, and Mahler has never since lost favor in Holland (except of course under Nazi occupation).
Like Mengelberg and Haitink, Edo de Waart has made a specialty of Mahler, once describing the Bohemian as "the closest thing the Dutch have to a national composer". Judging by the fondness and respect for Mahler that Maestro de Waart and the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra demonstrate here, one might assume that this music is embedded in the Dutch DNA.
These live, one-off performances were recorded for Dutch Radio and TV in the Concertgebouw from 1993 to 1995. The orchestra plays beautifully, the soloists are fine, and sound engineering is first-class. De Waart's readings are generally straightforward, reasonably paced, and without idiosyncrasy -- one reviewer aptly described them as "sensible" -- but they're by no means boring.
Energy, emotion, and color are woven into the whole in a way that is impactful but unobtrusive. Maestro de Waart permits Mahler to speak for himself, and in the long view this is more exciting than more heavy-handed approaches. These are very genuine readings that have worn well, at least for me.
As a live set, these "mainstream" performances are competitive with Kubelik's colorful Audite recordings (which sadly do not include a Fourth). I wouldn't be without either, and still own dozens of other Mahler recordings, live and studio. Variety is good for the soul. But, as much as I love Kubelik's Mahler, if I had to choose one set today it would be de Waart's.
Why these magnificent live performances are out of the RCA lineup is a mystery to me. Bertini's similarly under-recognized cycle from Cologne has finally found an audience, and one can only hope de Waart's Mahler will eventually be rescued by an enterprising label or, at least, by Archiv Music.
If you can find this set for sale or download at a reasonable price, do not hesitate. Highly recommended!
A short-lived but excellent set.
Lawrence Rapchak | Whiting, IN United States | 04/21/2010
(4 out of 5 stars)
"There are aspects of this set that rank among the absolute best Mahler that has ever been recorded. I have rarely, if ever, been disappointed by the brilliance and insight of DeWaart's conducting, and this set rarely falls short of his high standards. I will only point out a few examples: the big trombone solo passages in the 1st Movement of the Third Symphony are absolutely the best I have ever heard: not only is the sound of the instrument amazingly rich and powerful---like the "sound of nature" that Mahler conceived here---but De Waarts's conducting takes this music into another realm altogether; every detail of Mahler's scoring comes through with stunning clarity, and every nuance in tempo is observed. Must be heard to be believed.
The 4th symphony also contains passages that are revelatory; much of the 1st movement, starting with the 4 unison flutes (in A Major), piping away with their jolly tune, has an airy, folksy quality that captures exactly the character and spirit of the music. Similarly, the utterly calm, mystical reverence of the latter half of the 3rd movement defies description.
The orchestral playing is magnificent throughout, and the sound quality could not be better; it is rich and full-bodied, and fabulously detailed. Of course, few conductors, if any, can maintain a consistently high level of interpretation throughout a massive undertaking such as the Mahler symphonies, and I confess I found much of the 8th Symphony surprisingly lacking in conviction, though the incredible ending in this performance makes up for it. (I believe that every performance in this set was recorded live except for the Third Symphony).
The instability of the classical record market must have caused RCA to dump this set when it had only been on the market a short time. A real shame, since the overall level of DeWaart's cycle places it in the company of the very best Mahler recordings of all time."