Mahler: The Complete Works

compilation is at once a celebration of Mahler’s enduring music in sound
and also extraordinary performances by generations of performers, whose
interpretations offer solid readings of the music. EMI has been an excellent
source of fine recordings of Mahler’s music for decades, with recordings
in its catalogue that predate the revival of interest in his works that
occurred in the early 1960s. Among the early recordings in this set is the
famous recording of the song cycle Kindertotenlieder led by
Mahler’s protÈgÈ Bruno Walter, with Kathleen Ferrier, which dates from
1949. EMI also includes the 1952 performance of the cycle Lieder eines
fahrenden Gesellen
conducted by Wilhelm Furtw‰ngler included here —
latter release that offers the interpretation of a young Dietrich
Fischer-Dieskau. Yet EMI’s Mahler: The Complete Works is not
limited to older performances, since some of EMI’s recent releases of
Mahler’s music are included, as with the “Blumine” movement
from the 1888 five-movement version of the First Symphony conducted by Paavo
J‰rvi (2007) and Ian Bostridge’s set of three early Lieder, a 2010
release. Encompassing studio and live recordings released in the course of
sixty years, this comprehensive set pays tribute to many fine performances
which define the standards of Mahler interpretation.

Like EMI’s recent comprehensive collection of Puccini’s operas,
the present Mahler set bears consideration for the choices made regarding the
music, the singers, the conductors, the orchestras, and also the accompanists.
With regard to the music, EMI made some laudable choices to present a
comprehensive selection of Mahler’s works. All the major works are
present, but for the Lieder, the orchestral versions are in the set, with the
versions with piano accompaniment omitted. Absent from this set are the
piano-vocal versions of the set of Des Knaben Wunderhorn that Mahler
orchestrated; Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (which differs in
detail, rather than substance from the orchestral version);
Kindertotenlieder, and Das Lied von der Erde. These are
relatively small points, but important when it comes to distinguishing this set
as complete. The welcome inclusion of several different performances of the
piano-vocal version of the R¸ckert song “Ich bin der Welt abhanden
gekommen,” one of the outstanding features of this set, would, by
extension, merit the include of performances of those Lieder with piano

Nevertheless, the effort for comprehensiveness emerges in various ways. For
example, the “Blumine” movement from the First Symphony is
presented separately, since Mahler cut it from the revised four-movement
version of the work customarily performed — a case could be made for
including the five-movement version with its original orchestration, since such
presentation would demonstrate the shift in timbre Mahler achieved. Likewise,
substantial differences exist in the two versions of the early cantata Das
klagende Lied
because of the number of years between the three-movement
version (1880) and the revision as a two-movement work (1898-1899), with
Rattle’s 1984 recording of the earlier one included in this set. In
addition the tone poem Todtenfeier, which Mahler reworked as the first
movement of the Second Symphony is not part of the set. Since this set focuses
on music by Mahler himself, arrangements like the composer’s Bach Suite
are not included, yet even then the “Entr’acte” from Die
drei Pintos
is a short piece that offers a glimpse of the orchestral sound
Mahler would take into his Wunderhorn symphonies. These are details
that are useful in considering Mahler’s complete works, but should not be
taken as diminishing the contribution EMI has made in offering this set of

That stated, the more difficult choices exist with determining the
performances to include or, rather, the ones to exclude, and for the most part,
the set is uniformly strong. Mahler’s works demand much of conductors in
bringing the scores to successful performance. The works are large not only in
terms of the forces required, but also in length. Single movements, like the
first movement of the Third Symphony take half an hour to perform, and
convincing performances, like the one from 1997 in this set with Simon Rattle
conducting the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, recreate the music
vividly. Here the engagement of the conductor and ensemble result in a
memorable performance that calls to mind the other fine recordings in
Rattle’s Mahler cycle.

Rattle’s notable recording of the Second Symphony in comes to mind as
an important contribution to the discography. While Rattle’s Second
remains a compelling recording, EMI included in this set Otto Klemperer’s
extraordinary 1962 performance, which deservedly has a place in the
label’s series of Great Recordings of the Century. That recording is a
defining one, with Klemperer realizing in performance this important score of
Mahler’s early career. It remains an engaging performance that retains
its sense vitality half century after its release.

A similar chemistry was involved in Klemperer’s 1966 recording of
Das Lied von der Erde with Christa Ludwig, Fritz Wunderlich, and the
New Philharmonia Orchestra. That classic interpretation of this posthumously
premiere score deserves a place in a celebratory set like this one. While it
may be familiar to many, Klemperer’s recording not only endures, but
stands well when compared to others; this is not only a fortunate confluence of
performers, but also an example of Klemperer’s affinity with
Mahler’s style. This should not take away from the effectiveness of other
older recordings, like the well-known one by Bruno Walter, with Julius Patzak
and Kathleen Ferrier. Das Lied von der Erde is a work that benefits
from the perspectives gained by rehearings both in live performances and
through recordings. Of the latter, Klemperer’s recording retains its
attraction and brings together two of the finest vocalists of the time.

Other venerable performances are part of this set, like the recording of the
orchestral Wunderhornlieder that George Szell recorded in 1968 with
Elizabeth Schwarzkopf and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, with the London Symphony
Orchestra. This classic recording includes the dialogue songs performed by two
singers, something implied in the text and not explicitly scored. With these
performers, the result is engaging and natural, with the London Symphony
providing a solid accompaniment to these pieces. The approach is lively and
evocative, with appealing singing from both soloists. The inclusion of Szell in
this set calls to mind his other contributions to the Mahler discography, which
remain worth exploring. (Among his efforts are outstanding recordings of the
Fourth and Sixth Symphonies; as well as a live recording of Das Lied von
der Erde
performed while the Cleveland Orchestra was in Berlin.)

Another fine Mahler interpreter, Carlo Maria Giulini is represented by his
impressive recording of the First Symphony with the Chicago Symphony (1971).
While that recording is respected, Giulini’s other performances merit
attention, including his expressive Ninth and other music by Mahler. The
inclusion of this piece in the set also calls to mind the representation
various orchestras in this set for their tradition of performing Mahler’s
music well. While the Chicago Symphony Orchestra has a number of recordings of
Mahler’s works in its discography, this selection is an impressive
performance of the First Symphony that stands well among the excellent
recordings of the work not only in EMI’s catalogue, but elsewhere.

Along these lines, the contributions of Klaus Tennstedt to the Mahler
discography are represented by two works from his Mahler cycle, the Fifth
Symphony (1988) and the Eighth Symphony (1986). The latter is an extraordinary
performance that stands well in comparison with other notable recordings, like
Sir Georg Solti’s famous recording of the work. With its massive forces
and complex structures, the Eighth is challenging score, and when executed
well, it still poses challenges for effective recordings, because of the
extreme contrasts in sound and timbre. Yet Tennstedt’s efforts are match
with the excellent sound reproduction provided by EMI in this classic
interpretation of the work. This recording merits attention for it the solid
conception of the work that Tennstedt offers, and serves as tribute to the late
conductor’s legacy as an interpreter of Mahler’s music.

With Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, the performance selected for this set is
a good choice among Tennstedt’s other recordings of the work. This
intensity of this performance comes across well on CD and suggests well the
dynamic approach Tennstedt took on the podium. While other recordings are also
compelling, like Abbado’s live performance on Deutsche Grammophon or the
historic recording that is part of Bruno Walter’s legacy, the one by
Tennstedt reissued here has much to offer, including a spacing account of the
monumental Scherzo at the center of the Fifth Symphony.

Other venerable conductors are present, as is the case with Sir John
Barbirolli, whose performances of the Sixth and Ninth Symphonies are exemplary,
and both are included in this set. The earlier of the two recordings, the
Ninth, is with the Berlin Philharmonic (1964), while the Sixth is with the New
Philharmonia Orchestra (1967). While David Gutman’s essay included in the
booklet included with the set capture Leonard Bernstein’s comments about
the relevance of the Ninth for a new generation, Barbirolli belongs to the
tradition of performing the Ninth that may be traced to Bruno Walter, who led
the premiere of that Symphony in Vienna in 1912 and recorded the work
throughout his career. Barbirolli’s interpretation remains a solid one,
as does his conception of the Sixth. With the latter, the textual problems of
the score have been a concern in recent years, because the edition in the
composer’s collected works reverses the order of the inner movements as
Mahler intended them. This has resulted in decades of performances based on a
structural choice that the composer himself complicated when he temporarily
switched the order in print, but never performed the work that way. The
conundrum is a critical matter in the performance practice, and an issue that
calls for an editorial method that will serve Mahler’s music well. While
the discography demonstrates that it is possible to perform the Symphony both
ways, the interpretations change; Barbirolli’s recording is based on the
order the composer himself used in performance, with the Andante followed by
the Scherzo.

In addition to these classic accounts of Mahler’s scores, some more
recent recordings are part of the set, with Sir Simon Rattle’s 1991
recording the Seventh Symphony. This is significant for the incisiveness of
this particular performance of a work that has only come into its own in recent
decades. In the 1960s the enthusiasm for Mahler’s music was equivocal for
the Seventh, which some regarded a kind of step-child in the composer’s
symphonies (this may be ascribed to the criticism of Theodor Adorno, who found
that Mahler emerged as a poor yes-man in this score). Yet as scholars and
conductors explored the strengths of this score, interpretations brought
audiences new understandings in effective performances, like the famous one by
Claudio Abbado with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from the 1980s or the one
Bernard Haitink contributed to his Mahler cycle on the Philips label. The
Rattle performance in this set stands well with the outstanding modern
interpretations of this work, with its persuasive treatment of the Rondo-Finale
and the more intimate style of the two Nachtmusik movements that flank
the central Scherzo.

As to the vocalists, EMI’s set offers essentially a record of Mahler
singing. Again, with Fischer Dieskau’s early interpretations of the
Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, listeners have the chance to hear how
Mahler was presented to the public in the early 1950s. Likewise, Elizabeth
Schwarzkopf, whose contributions also include a fine recording of
Mahler’s Fourth, Fischer-Dieskau, Dame Janet Baker, and other were known
in the 1960s for their performances of Mahler’s music, and their
inclusion in this sets represents an important part of the Mahler discography.
Along these lines, some classic performances exist from that time, and this EMI
set reissues the impressive recording of Mahler’s Fourth Symphony
conducted by Jascha Horenstein, with Margaret Price performing the Song-Finale,
“Das himmlische Leben.” (The Fourth Symphony benefits from a number
of solid recordings, and this work alone may be the subject of a set of famous
performances from the 1940s through the early twenty-first century. A similar
retrospective approach could be taken for Das Lied von der Erde, for
which recordings exist back to the late 1930s.)

Taken as a whole, the recordings of the famous vocalists in this set
represent a level of interpretation on which other performers built, as found
with the outstanding soloists for Tennstedt’s Eighth, which includes
Felicity Lott, Hans Sotin, and others. The more recent vocalists include Thomas
Hampson, whose recording the Kindertotenlieder with accompaniment
Wolfram Rieger (1996); Katarina KarnÈus for various early Lieder (1999) and the
later song “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen” (1998), and others.
In fact, the choices made for the three volumes of Mahler’s early
Lieder und Ges‰nge on disc 4 comprise a survey of singers and pianists
who recorded those songs at various times for EMI.

Finally the accompanists for the Lieder are also impressive, with Gerald
Moor, Irwin Gage, Roger Vignoles, Julius Drake, Daniel Barenboim, Antonio
Pappano, prominent in this set. The pianists are well-known interpreters of
Lieder, and they approach Mahler well from that tradition. Those interested in
the interpretations may wish to seek out their recordings to hear
Mahler’s Lieder in the more intimate settings for voice and piano, which
merit attention along with the nuanced orchestral settings the composer also
left in his oeuvre.

The release of these recordings in a single set not only calls attention to
Mahler’s legacy in sound, but also to the quality of the efforts. From
this perspective, the set benefits from uniformly excellent sound, despite the
varying conditions involved, including studios and various live venues (the
details of each recording are included the in accompanying book). At the same
time, it is impressive to find all the music on 16 discs; yet that involved
splitting multi-movement pieces between discs, which has been done in various
ways with some of the existing sets of Mahler’s symphonies. This does not
pose problems, but allows space for the useful set of various interpretations
of “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen” on the final disc, which
also contains the texts and translations for the entire set. (Note that the
booklet is the only source of information on the specific tracks and releases.
Each sleeve contains information about the music, but not the performers and
details on the original releases, as found in the booklet. While such data is
available at the URL listed above, for convenience, it could have been included
with the useful PDF that contains the texts and translations.)

Those interested in this set may also wish to pursue EMI’s recent
two-disc set of Mahler’s Adagios, that is, the slow movements from the
composer’s ten symphonies. While it includes several movements from the
“Complete Works,” the Adagio collection draws from a number of
other recordings, notably Tennstedt’s Third, Klemperer’s Ninth, and
several others. More than that, the focus on the slow movements calls attention
to Mahler’s development of that part of his symphonic structures in terms
of the content of the movement and its function in his works. If the slow
movement in the nineteenth-century symphony served a secondary role in the
context of the gravity of the outer movements, Mahler shifted that perspective
from the start with the innovative content of the third movement of the First
Symphony or the intensive double variations of the Fourth. With the Fifth, the
transformation of a song into the Adagietto brings a level of self-reference
into the work that has a parallel with the Scherzo of the Second. Yet with the
Third and Ninth Symphonies, Mahler used slow movements as the Finale of each
work, and with that created monumental structures that shift the weight from
the conventional way of ending the work. At the end, he reconceived the slow
movement and used his magnificent Adagio as the opening of his unfinished
Tenth. An examination of the slow movements in either set merits attention; yet
the larger box-set also afford listeners the chance to explore Mahler’s
Scherzos for the same purpose, and thus appreciate the composer’s
accomplishments in the context of all his works.

All in all, this commemorative set serves Mahler well, and more than that,
the generations of performers who have interpreted his music. This set affords
listeners not enjoy the fine recordings conveniently and, given the quality of
the performances, should spur further explorations of the Mahler cycles by
Tennstedt, Rattle, and others, along with the recordings of other conductors
included in this set. As Mahler’s music reaches into a second century of
performances, this kind of review of the discography is an excellent
opportunity to return with renewed attention to music which has certainly
become familiar, yet has never lost its relevance. Unquestionably
Mahler’s time has come for audiences who can appreciate his works through
the efforts of interpreters who renew the music in performances and recordings
that continue this strong tradition into a second century.

James L. Zychowicz

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product_id=EMI Classics 5099960898524 [16CDs]