1. I do care for sound quality.
2. I don’t care for tradition for itself (Walter, Horenstein, Barbirolli, Klemperer, Kubelik et al.)
3. I admit that in most cases I like Mahler taken to extremes.
(The order of the listed recordings does matter.)
Bernstein, RCO, DG, 1987 — Just perfect. The reference recording for this symphony. No arguments.
Kubelik, BRSO, DG, 1967 — Legendary recording, nice 3rd mvt. Fast and very fluid 4th.
Chailly, RCO, Decca, 1995 — Excellent sound, good version. Though sometimes a bit slow.
(Worth mentioning: Gielen: Gielen’s Mahler is a lot of fun once you know the symphony in question. He always extract new things from the score, but he generally lacks of a great deal of romanticism, imo. The sound of the SWRSO doesn’t help with this either)
Bernstein, NYP, DG, 1987 — This one is THE resurrection IMO. Slow, true, but never ever boring. The slowest and at the same time most powerful ending ever recorded. The whole last movement actually is an unforgettable experience.
Rattle, CBSO, EMI, 1986 — Romantic, good sonics and singing. If Rattle has some reputation as a mahlerian is partly because of this recording
Ozawa, SKO, Sony, 2000 — Excellent playing. Superb sound. A bit rushed from time to time. SP in the very ending.
(Yep, there’s NO Klemperer here! Mehta is also pretty good)
Salonen, LAP, Sony, 1997 — A safe choice overall. Amazing sound too.
Gielen, SWRSO, Hänssler, 1997 — Very ‘Gielen’: Modern and interventionist. Works great for the 2nd and 3rd mvts, but not so much for the 6th
Bernstein, NYP, DG, 1987 — Another example of Bernstein using broadest tempi and, after 1hour 46 minutes!!, not only you weren’t bored, but you loved it! (The last mvt may be too slow for some ppl, though)
Maazel, VPO, Sony, 1983 — Leisured tempi. Fine sound. NOBODY sings the last movement as Kathleen Battle. <- note the period!
Levi, Atlanta SO, Telarc, 1998 — Second to none in sound and playing in all movements, BUT it doesn’t have Kathleen Battle :-((
Rattle, CBSO, EMI, 1997 — Often overlooked. But i think this is the version that best captures the “fairy tale” mood of the symphony. Trully magical.
(Szell and Kletzki are excellent and safe choices too)
Chailly, RCO, Decca, 1997 — Flawless, perfect sound. Nothing’s wrong here.
Barshai, Junge Deutsche Philharmonie, Laurel, 1997 — Excellent first two movements & adagietto, slow scherzo & finale (nice ending, though)
Gatti, RPO, Conifer, 1997 — Very intense. Nice Scherzo, good sound too.
(Barbirolli is SOOO BOOOOOOOOOOORING!!!)
Tennstedt, LPO, EMI, 1983 — FRIGHTENING! Best outer movements ever IMO, great scherzo too, but not for everybody (Way too intense). Lame andante, though.
Sanderling, Saint Petersburg PO, RS, 1995 — Excellent throughout. If you think Bernstein, Barbirolli or Tennstedt are too much, go for this one.
Barbirolli, New Philharmonia, EMI, 1967 — Slooow and creepy Allegro & Scherzo. Has the best andante. Good sound too. Either Love or hate it.
(The 6th is perhaps the richest of all Mahler symphonies, IMO. And most versions I have show very interesting points. Worth mentioning: Bernstein (DG), Gielen and Szell here too)
Abbado, BPO, DG, 2001 — Very good overall. Fast tempi. Spectacular finale. I usually join the crowd who applaud at the ending 🙂
Gielen, SWRSO, Hänssler, 1993 — Somehow, Gielen has always something to say with Mahler’s most modern symphonies.
Tilson Thomas, LSO, RCA, 1997 — Dark sound from the LSO (that’s good!). Very good playing.
Another difficult symphony to recommend ONE version.
Chailly, RCO, Decca, 2000 — Nice work with the 1st movement!!. Good playing, singing; and what an ending!!! (Low volume, but great sound)
Solti, CSO, Decca, 1971 — A bit overblown; sometimes rushed and unnatural sounding. BUT a hell of a cast (the best of all) and playing. Insanely powerful, though lacking in grace sometimes. Boys’ chorus aren’t good. (If i had listen this one first — instead of Abbado’s — I’d probably be a die hard fan of it)
Sinopoli, Philharmonia, DG, 1990 — Tiny and artificially enhanced chorus but plenty of nice details in the singing and dynamics. Lovely harps 🙂
Worth mention: Davis (for some nice details with the chorus). Tennstedt is good too.
(Even tougher than the 6th or the 8th to recommend just ONE exceptional and 100% satisfying recording)
Abbado, BPO, DG, 1999 — Has the best inner movements of all (bizarreness at it’s best!). Sober external mvts. Not great sound.
Bertini, Cologne RSO, EMI, 1991 — Probably the best overall. Fine sound. But nothing really REALLY special if you consider each movement separately.
Zander, Philharmonia, Telarc, 1996 — Pretty much the same as Bertini: a safe choice overall, but there are better in each movement (Low volume)
You want “the Best” 9th?
III: Abbado again,
IV: Probably Barbirolli.
I once read that the 9th is a “conductor-proof symphony”: Bullsh***!
Worth mentioning: (hmmmz… so many)
Boulez: JUST for the 1st mvt;
Klemperer JUST for the outer mvts.
Barbirolli JUST for the last mvt.
Haitink, and Ozawa are also fine overall.
No Bernstein here, I’m afraid. NAH, neither with the BSO. (Geeky cult-version that’s AWFULLY played and worst sounding).
Rattle, BPO, EMI, 1999 (Cooke) — The reference recording for the 10th. The outer movements are exceptional. The inner are just as good as cooke’s version can be.
Litton, Dallas SO, Delos, 2001 (Carpenter) — You can either love or hate Carpenter’s ‘completition’. I think the three inner movements are simply stunning (MUCH more fun here than with 10 cookes). Not the same success with the 1st and specially the last mvt. Superb playing and sound.
Chailly, RSO Berlin, Decca, 1986 (Cooke) — well played, sounds ok, but If you already have Rattle, you are done with the cooke version. (If you have another performing version/completition (Barshai, Mazzetti, Samale-Mazzucca) tell me!
Klemperer, Philharmonia, EMI, 1964-6 — Time to mention the old man in a work that I think really suites him. This is a great DL. Good sound too.
Oue, Minnesota Orchestra, RR, 1999. — Great singing from the soprano AND no shouting at the ending (good point). Exceptional sound.
King, Fischer-Dieskau: — No other “male” dl comes close to this one. Both King and (sp) Fischer-Dieskau are in amazing form.