Mahler: The Complete Symphonies

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Product Description

For many of us, Leonard Bernstein's first Mahler cycle for CBS (compiled here, remastered and cheaper than ever) has stood the test of time since it initially came out on LP in the late 1960s. Upon completing this traversal of nine symphonies (and the "Adagio" movement from the unfinished 10th), Lenny and the New York Philharmonic achieved something no one else had and proved that Mahler was, simply put, worth recording in the first place. It's still a marvelous set of recordings that belongs in every record collection.

Using the same budgeted design as on their (surprisingly pricey) Original Jacket series of box sets, Sony has unleashed a true bargain here: 12 CDs that average a little over five bucks a pop. Lenny's second cycle for Deutsche Grammophon may boast greater sonics, plenty of wonderful moments, and the complete song cycles, but it costs more than twice as much. Here, we get a younger Lenny, sounding fresh and expressive and delivering still-unparalleled interpretations of the First, Third, Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth, and pretty great performances of the rest. The intensity on these discs is infectious and the price can't be beat. A must-have. --Jason Verlinde

Customer Reviews:

  • Buy it before it goes out of print -- it's only $$$
    What an incredible bargain! All of Mahler's symphonies in a convenient box in superb performances in excellent sound. Bernstein's may not be my favorite in every symphony, but there's not a bad performance here. Everything is beautifully played by the NYPO, with a lot of enthusiasm -- there's a freshness to these recordings that Bernstein never recaptured in his later recordings (which are much different, though equally great in their way). Some favorites include #3 (a landmark recording at the time) and #4 (passionately played -- some prefer Bernstein's remake on DG, but, come on! The Concertgebouw strings can't play in tune in the slow movement! And that boy alto....) #6,7,9 are all superb. I don't know if any of these performances is the best ever, but they all achieve a level of excellence in playing, sound, verve, and emotion that no other set matches. And it's only $$$! How can you miss? Sony has been a pathetic classical label in recent years, who knows how much longer their classical division will last? Buy it now....more info
  • Bernstein's Mahler - Exceptional Passion, Wonderful Craft
    Leonard Bernstein brought Gustav Mahler to the public. For that, he is to be lauded or cursed -- based upon what the listener receives from the presentation.
    I have a numbered copy of the CBS 1960's release of the Symphonies under Maestro Bernstein. Carefully protected and maintained, the vinyl continues to enthrall a listener with Mahler's powerful heart and Bernstein's grasp of each beat.
    In agreement with other viewers, I think the CD compilation is ALMOST five-star.
    As regards Bernstein's youthful verve in these recordings -- what can one say? He was more powerful then, but contemplative at the same time. His DG recordings are different because, I think, they played to a German/European audience that preferred Mahler's contemporary, Richard Strauss. Strauss was easy to listen to: Mahler is much more challenging.
    One can "tech-up" music only so much. This CD package is well worth the price -- and saves unblemished what my vinyl slowly loses. I highly recommend this CD bundle to anyone who loves Gustav's herculean work and wants to remember Leonard Bernstein when he absolutely was in his prime. A better combination of composer to dirigent cannot be had...more info
  • Bernstein's Mahler
    This is an excellent set of Mahler's symphonies, the Kindertotenlieder, three Ruckertlieder, and the adagio of the tenth. But these are not the only Mahler symphonies conducted by Bernstein, and Bernstein is not the best. but if you want to get all of them at once, this is the way to do it. I think Bruno Walter or Herbert von Karajan might be better, and there is a new set that David Zinman is working on right now.

    I have other recordings of the first, second, fifth, sixth, and eighth. So of these I can give more educated criticisms.

    The first is impressive, and I like it more than Zinman's. I can hear more in Bernstein's than in Zinman's.

    In the second, the singing starts off sounding like a rubber band. I know this is an odd comparison, but I can't think of anything else. I remember being more impressed by Zubin Mehta's and Bruno Walter's recordings than this one; although Walter's chorus isn't great either, it is due more to the recording than the chorus.

    The fourth movement of the sixth is more effective than the fourth of Karajan's, but I like Karajan's first three movements better than Bernstein's.

    I prefer Solti's eighth much more than Bernstein's, the chorus is much louder and more awake sounding in Solti's.

    The ninth is probably Mahler's greatest symphony, but by no means my favorite. The first movement is beautiful, the second is lively, the third demonic, and the fourth peaceful. I think this is just the effect it is supposed to have.

    If you already have individual symphonies, I would not recommend getting this set, but if you have little or nothing by Mahler, then this is a good investment. One irritating thing is that most of the symphonies are seperated into many different tracks (28 for the ninth). This is alright if you are listening straight through or if you know when a movement starts or stops, but if you are new, it might be annoying....more info
  • Great Mahler at an unbeatable price
    The great news with this cycle is that the price alone makes this a must have for any serious Mahler fan. However you view Bernstein, as the quintessential Mahler conductor or as something less, it is doubtful that you'll find anyone who approached Mahler with more insight and passion than Bernstein did. At least not on this scale. One of the real gems in this package is a reprint of an essay Bernstein wrote on Mahler during the period of the recordings. It is scathing and brilliant, and leaves no doubt that Bernstein considers Mahler to be the great master composer/prophet of the modern age. Between the lines we can read Bernstein's deep sense of affinity with Mahler and his commitment to bringing his message to the world. As Berstein speaks of Mahler's fate, we get a sense of what Bernstein considered to be his.

    In any cycle of course there will be places where the performances fall short and there's no exception to that here. You'll want to compliment this cycle with other recordings. But you will also find some of the finest Mahler performances ever. The sound isn't the greatest, as has been pointed out (these recordings are old!), and key highlights sometimes suffer regrettably in the muddiness. And if it's technical mastery you're looking you're bound to be disappointed more than once. Despite all that, the raw intensity of the recordings is something that is a joy to hear. Nobody perhaps exploits the dichotomy and gargantuan scale that is Mahler better than Bernstein. Enjoy!...more info

  • Varied Ways of Looking at Mahler
    In general, I don't find "complete symphonies" of anybody with the same conductor satisfying overviews (exceptions that break the rule, Beethoven: Karajan's from the 1960s, Harnoncourt's, and Furtwangler's compilations which include the wartime Eroica from Berlin and the Pastorale from his return to the BPO concert). Conductors as a rule are better at some than at others. Specifically with Mahler, I need to admit that I don't like all the symphonies equally, nor do I find any one conductor doing them equally as well, so overall, I suggest don't get this box but look for individual items. Let's take one symphony at a time:

    First: not one of my favourites, I think it's very loud. Bernstein brings out the klezmer aspects which are cute, but perhaps more subdued highlighting would be enough. It's the "Titan," not the "Jewish" symphony. The performance I enjoy, given that I'm not a fan of the work, is Ormandy with the Philadelphia Orch which includes the Blumine movement (excised by Mahler after the premiere), and shows the later Philadelphia sound at its best.

    Second: The earlier movements of the symphony are insufferable, as well as parts of the last.... just when you hope Mahler is through with gaucheries, along comes another embarrasing little march. Notwithstanding shortcomings, by the time the chorus comes in, it becomes sublime. No one can top Klemperer/Wilhelm Pitz, serious music making at its best. Abbado from Lucerne a close second. Rattle from Birmingham a refreshing third.

    Third: Have not heard fabled Horenstein, so regrettably, not part of this survey. Otherwise, Abbado from Vienna (Jessie Norman), slower, Abbado from Berlin (Larsson),a bit sprightlier, Essa Pekka Salonen from LA (Larsson), great clarity and passion. This is one of my favourite Mahler symphonies.

    Fourth: Reiner with the CSO and Lisa della Casa, to my knowledge his only Mahler symphony, and a great one it is, lyrical and powerful. This symphony has lovely moments, even if the end is a bit saccharine/silly, nonetheless, it is quite fine. Bernstein on DG is fine, but having a boy soprano (Alan Bergius, whom he also used in live concert with the VPO in New York) just doesn't work and is distracting.

    Fifth: Another of my favourites and hors de concours go to Karajan. He totally commands the structure of the entire piece and brings it all to bear in the climactic conclusion. ..... a stunning, moving job. Barbarolli is more leisurely but persuasive in a somewhat muted way. Bernstein brings his sense of drama to this sprawling work, very effective in individual parts but does not convey a feeling that one has travelled a musical journey from the first note to the last. The later recording is preferable to the NY Philhamonic.

    Sixth: For a budget price incredible buy, there's George Szell with the Cleveland in a live performance who keeps you at the edge of your seat. It's Tragic going on Hysterical, but a thrill to hear. Karajan excels as do Bernstein and Boulez.

    Seventh: I've yet to fully make this symphony work for me. Nonetheless, Abbado with the BPO does as much for it as I have been able to grasp, closely followed by Boulez. Bernstein makes much drama out of the music which to my ears, just makes it sound even more hollow, to paraphrase WS much sound and fury, signifying nothing. To summarize my feelings about this symphony, it sounds like a second rate, ingenious composer trying to write a symphony that will sound as if by Mahler. I've changed my mind about specific pieces of music in the course of my life, but every time I've heard this symphony, even with renowned conductors and orchestras, it reinforces what I have felt in the past.

    Eighth: Solti and the CSO recorded in Vienna. No one comes close. The Veni Creator movement noisy and musically messy as always and as with everybody. Once we get to Goethe it is sublime.

    Ninth: Karajan's live performance with the BPO is powerful verging on sublime. An entirely different approach, with double underlining whenever he can, Bernstein's ONE performance with the BPO is the best ninth he ever recorded. Extraordinarily moving overall, except some accents to which one reacts: Lenny no, it's just a bit too much, nonetheless a great performance. His with the Concertgebouw is also fine. The Walter/VPO is a must for historical reasons and it is a good performance, even if orchestral discipline is spotty.

    Tenth: Rattle seems to have staked a claim on this reconstructed work and does quite efficient work with it. However, I am very fond of the Ormandy version (the first ever made of the Cooke fleshing out). He conducts it as a feast for Phildelphia Sound..... and succeeds splendidly. It's a joy to hear and endures repeated hearings.

    Das Lied von der Erde: With a deep historical bow to Kirsten Thorborg, Kathleen Ferrier, Patzak, Walter and the VPO, in more modern sound we have three superlative recordings, each with Christa Ludwig, who probably understands this music better than any other solo around, and for the longest time had the richness, intelligence, heft, evennes, and tessitura to do it full justice: Klemperer with Wunderlich, Karajan with Kollo, and, on DVD with Bernstein with Kollo and the Israel Ph. from the Vienna Kontzerthaus. The DVD is particularly moving. Nan Merriman with Eugen Jochum, and Maureen Forrester with Reiner are also fine options.

    Thus, don't settle on one conductor....... there was Mahler before, during and after Bernstein. My reluctance to endorse Bernstein wholeheartedly, though I find much to appreciate there, is that the hyper-emotionalism more often than not is episodic, thereby taking from the musical structure of the pieces as a whole and, ironically, thereby diminishing their emotional impact. I guess it all becomes too much about Lenny and not about the piece....more info
  • An Awesome Set of Mahler Symphonies!!!
    Sony Music's 12-disc set "Mahler: The Complete Symphonies" collects nearly all of the mammoth symphonies by the great Austrian composer Gustav Mahler under the baton of the late, great Leonard Bernstein.
    Essentially, the set brings the individual "Bernstein Century" discs together in one place for a price that is way cheaper than the single discs combined. The only things missing from this set are the complete 10th symphony which Bernstein refused to conduct appart from its first movement (which is included here) and "Das Lied von der Erde" which is more of a symphonic song-cycle rather than an actual symphony (still awesome though).
    The sheer epic power of these symphonies is unpredicented and uncovers the undeniable fact that Mahler was indeed a true genius. While the complexity and extended length of these symphonies may be overwhelming to some, their imporatance is something that is clearly never overshadowed.
    The set also includes an extensive booklet with track details, essays from Bernstein and Tim Page as well as lyrics to all the symphonies that feature choirs and/or soloists.
    Hands down, this is an essential addition to anyone's music collection. Maestro Bernstein has indeed brought out the very best in these amazing Mahler symphonies and the performances here are flawless.
    Highly, Highly Recommended!!!

    Recommended first listens on this set: Symphony Nos. 2, 3, 7, 8 and 9....more info
  • Overrated
    I never quite understood the reason for the reputation Bernstein's recordings of Mahler enjoy. Almost all symphonies in this set are performed correctly from the technical stand-point but the real musical issues are not resolved appropriately. As an example one may consider the passages that symbolize vulgarity in music. These are key points in Mahler's symphonies but Bernstein conducts them with a breadth and solemnity that makes them and the rest of the music sound ridiculous. Such an approach inverts the composer's intentions and, ironically, lends support to those early detractors of Mahler who accused him of cheap tricks and triviality....more info
  • I've finally figured it out!
    Being a Mahler Maniac for the last forty-five years, I've finally figured it out; Mahler was the reincarnation of Bach composing his music while on acid! Thank God! When you think of the passion of Beethoven or Tchaikovsky, for that matter, this ,obviously bi-polar man created the greatest towering symphonic edifices of the late romantic, or let us say neoromantic period. Maybe, more correctly, of all time.

    I had the complete sets of Solti, Van Karajan, Haitink, James Livine, and various different releases of Ormandy, Muti, Bruno Walter, Steinberg with the Pitsburgh symphony and somehow never got around to purchasing any of this set! Can you believe that?
    So, I just bought the 2nd,'Resurrection, 3rd,5th, 7th, 8th, and 9th, and recently got the Ormandy version of 'Das Lied von der Erde' Sine qa non, by the way. Even better that Walter's

    I happened to read a critique concerning the recent re-release of Rafael Kubelik's complete Mahler set with the Berlin Radio Symphony. I knew that I didn't want to listen to a bar when the critic said that Kubelik liked his Mahler straight forward without much imbellishments. What Gustav Mahler is this? Must be from Mercury or something.

    From the very first bar of the 'Titan' until the very last bar of the 'Ninth', 'Das Lied von der Erde', all of his songs and even the unfinished tenth? Glissandi in the strings?, exageration of all choruses of the orchestra that must have a master conductor who is so deeply in touch with the soul of Mahler that it all flows together in magnificent polyphonic storms and sudden quiet and all of a sudden you know that you are wittnesing the very depths of, not only Mahler's soul but the Maestro's also.

    There is a section in the finale of the ninth #24 where there has been a wondereful slowly built up crescendo in the strings and brass and there is a subito immediatly to pianissimo, and it sounds like one of the bass players was so caugth up in the mood that he looses it and falls off the stage! You can hear it, but the mood is undisturbed and the finale is beautifully realized. Mahler's 'Pathetic'?

    The 'night music' of the seventh--umm, wonderful, mysterious. The third is marvelous. The boy choir, Jenny Tourel. And I didn't think that I would ever hear a better performance Than Ormandy's PHO 'Resurrection', especially in the finale when the this incredible death march is occuring into the pit of death itself and then the beginning of the positive music makes its
    inexorable entrance and the bells start to ring and the ultimate battle between life and death is occuring and the tremendous climax of this struggle, the ecstatic music begins, the angels start to sing and tell the dead that it is time to rise up and the men sing 'forget thy trembling! Prepare thyself for LIfe!' Ormandy and Bernstein conduct with absolute fervor and the men sing it quickly and urgently, not two long sustained notes as I have heard in other recordings that absolutley loses the impact of the most important two lines of the symphony and the maestro concludes magnificently.

    Every one of these recordings has amazing sound for being thirty somethings. A must have for any music library and an absolute benchmark that all Mahler recordings should be measured by. AND CHEAP TOO!!!

    Do not pass this up!...more info

  • An incredibly priced set of very good Mahler recordings
    I own both Bernstein cycles of the Mahler symphonies. I first purchased the digital set, but when this set came out, I had to get it. I know that it was one of the first complete Mahler cycles out and that traditionally the performances are accepted as some of the better interpretations of Mahler. After having listened to the whole cycle, I can say without a hesitation that the price is a bargain on this cycle. Highlights of the cycle for me are the 6th and 7th symphonies. The 6th symphony in particular is incredible. It's such a dark symphony to begin with, but with the conducting of Bernstein (who seems to be over-the-top) you get a much more compellingly ominous result. Definitely the 6th symphony is the highlight for me on this cycle. The sound quality is pretty good on all the symphonies. Sony did a good job cleaning them up and ridding them of excess hiss and crackle. The recording of the 7th symphony was the one that opened my mind and heart to this symphony.

    The reason that I don't give this cycle 5 stars is that I'm not particularly impressed with the 1st and 5th symphonies. Perhaps, I am still too much of a digital lover, because my favorites of those are Bernstein's on DG, where the digital recordings reveal the full splendor of Mahler's great works. The 60's analog recordings don't quite have the full range of sound in them on these two symphonies, and that can be a little disappointing. However, one can still get a sense of the excitement of the performance even when the sound is subpar.

    Anyone looking for advice on this cycle, I would offer this: Go for the DG digital cycle of Bernstein if you're willing to pay the extra money. If you want the full cycle and you're on a budget, go for this one. I highly doubt that if you love Mahler that you'll regret having invested in this set. It is quite good. Anyone just getting into Mahler, this is probably a good entrance for you too if you're looking to get all the symphonies at once. If you're looking for the best introduction to Mahler though, I'd recommend Bernstein's 1st and 5th symphonies on DG (in digital) as first listening....more info

  • Ahh the mood swing...
    When it comes to making music sound beautiful, scary, sad, angry, etc., Mahler took the trophy. He could paint a picture of a beautiful spring day or a fit of rage. For someone who wants to hear all of Mahler's works for a bargain price this is the set for you. The only weak link is the 5th symphony. In the 5th the orchestra sounds like a high school orchestra at their worst. Aside from the 5th the playing is superb and highly graphic. For the fifth I recommend you purchase either Karajan's or Barbiriolli's account. Both are excellent ... Some complain about the 4th being too slow but after hearing Reiner's account I like this version better. Szell's account of the 4th is sweet but unless you hear something in the 4th that you don't like stick with it. Enjoy!...more info
  • Young Lenny is absolutely stunning - better than new DG set
    I was rather untouched by his new recordings of No.1 and No.5 made by DG. So I didn't think about buying his old Mahler set until now. With all those predictable shortcomings, it will not fail to shake your spiritual grounds. Any serious lover of music must listen to these performances once in his life!...more info
  • More thoughts on a superb and importance set
    I'd like to add to my initial review of this Mahler set, now that I've listened to everything closely several times, and in comparison to other Mahler recordings. This is still not only the best Mahler set in terms of price, but in terms of consistency of the recordings as well and has to be essential for any Mahler lover. A quick run-down:

    Symphony 1: A good recording, points the way to Lenny's later DG recording which is the best. The second movement is highly Romantic and Viennese, the opposite of the minuet-trio style that seems more popular now. The third movement is Lenny at his best, and the opening bass solo is one where it is *finally* played the way Mahler intended.

    Symphony 2: A very willful performance in the Bernstein manner, teetering at the brink of indulgence, but he pulls it off. Very good.

    Symphony 3: This is a famous performance, and in general it is the very finest I have ever heard of this piece. Simply incredible, expressive and concentrated to the nth degree.

    Symphony 4: The only misstep. It's okay, but the forward flow, which is so important, comes out as episodic, and Reri Grist is not the right singer for the last movement.

    Symphony 5: Very good, like #1 a real precursor to what Lenny would do later with the VPO. This is a good example of what a conductor I know remarked, that it just took time for Lenny to develop that marvelous legato phrasing that still conveyed a forward pulse even if the phrase seems to be slow. He wasn't quite there at this point, but a fine performance nonetheless.

    Symphony 6: Another famous recording, one of the very best of this piece.

    Syphony 7: Fantastic, even better than Lenny's later one. The only performance I've heard that makes this sound like a real symphony, rather than a episodic pastiche. It's magic the way he pulls it off.

    Symphony 8: Famed again, and one of the very best.

    Symphony 9: Incredible. There are many great recordings of #9 and this is one of them. Very different than Lenny's later ones and from any other I know - he takes a very savage, dark view of the first movement, not much misterioso flavor, and pulls it off. Which sets the incredibly played, expressive last movement in an even great light.

    The New York Philharmonic was a great orchestra at this time with a great sound for Mahler. String playing, especially in the lower strings, is superb, as are the woodwinds, and the low brass are fantastic. On an inferior system the low brass will probably overpower other sections. The only real weakness are the trumpets, which are sour-sounding and seem to lack physical strength, but this is not enough to mar the whole of this set, which is priceless. Enjoy....more info

  • Wow
    For the past two years, I had been listening to the Solti/CSO recordings of the complete Mahler symphonies. And, while I still love them, this Bernstein boxed set is truly exceptional (in many ways better).

    First, let me point out the obvius, for under $70, you are getting 12 CDs: a mind-blowing deal in today's world of overpriced recordings.

    Secondly, Bernstein's Mahler is legendary. This boxed set of his features him as a younger man conducting, which can be good or bad, depending on how you like your Bernstein. Personally, I prefer his fresher, younger recordings because he plays with much more fire and zest. Regardless of whether you like earlier/later Bernstein, he had incredible things to say about Mahler throughout his entire career.

    There are two problems with this set however. First, in general the sound quality is good, but not GREAT. That's too bad, but I don't think it gets in the way of enjoying these moving performances. Second, you may want to invest in some good speakers. These recordings have a massive dynamic range, which is great for Mahler, but can be problematic if a) your speakers [are bad] or b) you don't like music loud. If you don't like music to be loud, I'm unsure why you are listening to Mahler anyways, but do keep this in mind before you buy the set.

    I'm not sure why this isn't listed as an essential recording. This is Mahler as he should be played....more info

  • The first but not the foremost
    Bernstein's mid-'60s Mahler series was reportedly the first complete cycle on record, and did much to start Mahler's music on the road to the mainstream acceptance it enjoys today. For that, and for some individual recordings which still set the standard, this is a valuable set.

    That said, the general understanding of Mahler has matured in the 35-40 years since these recordings were new. So today, a fair amount of what Bernstein did then sounds an awful lot like beating the listener over the head with a 2 x 4, repeatedly saying, "Do you get it? Do you get it?" The Second and Eighth Symphonies in particular come off as caricatures (although not grotesque ones, as was Bernstein's DG remake of the Second), with the vocal soloists in the Eighth hamming it up. As for the Sixth, my favorite among Mahler's symphonies, Bernstein's relentless quick-march through the score actually proves less effective than Pierre Boulez's reserved approach (or Bernstein's own, more measured remake for DG), even if Lenny's sincerity and passion are never in doubt.

    Compared to the later set Bernstein did for DG, this series is invariably fresher and more vibrant. The New York Philharmonic of the mid-'60s could be scrappy, but there's an element of "soul" in the playing that's lacking in the world-class ensembles (including this orchestra) Bernstein conducted for his DG set years afterward. While the differences are not so apparent in the Seventh Symphony, which in either set is among the finest available, Bernstein's 1960s recordings of the Third and Ninth Symphonies are blessed with a naturalness that is lacking in the older man's interpretations. I may be among the few who prefers Bernstein's 1966 First to his 1989 remake (the later performance inflates the music too much), and I count his 1960 Fourth as seriously underrated. However, the Fifth Symphony is a weak link. The DG remake is waterlogged if beautifully played and nicely recorded, while the Sony (originally CBS) original flows far better but suffers from slipshod playing and dingy sound. It's the closest Bernstein comes to being unexceptional.

    In short, if your view is that overstatement is essential in conveying Mahler's music, nobody overstated it better than Bernstein, and he made a stronger case for overstatement in this set than he did 20 years later. Ah, but if only Jascha Horenstein had the chance to record a complete Mahler cycle with a competent orchestra......more info

  • Outstanding Mahler Compilation
    I think is very important for a Mahler Fan to hear carefully all his work. This compilation allows you to enjoy that experience. A better sound quality for some symphonies could be a great plus, but you have to consider that this is a remasterized old record.

    Leonard Bernstein just express the true passion that Mahler put on his work. It's incredible that (using the 8ve Symphony as an example) with fewer instruments than in the Abbado version, the feeling is even better. Simply outstanding.

    Great price, great compilation. Lot of Mahler.

    ...more info
  • Just About Perfect!
    You can't call yourself culturally literate in music unless you have digested the Mahler symphony cycle. Mahler has gone from a little performed late-romantic to an almost ubiquitous presence on the concert stage. It is a rare symphony orchestra that doesn't program at least one Mahler symphony a season. While you might argue that other late romantics deserve recognition too, you can't argue that Mahler was probably the most important of 20th century symphonists. His influence can be found in most large orchestral music down to the present day.

    The Bernstein cycle was the first complete Mahler cycle recorded and, for my money, it's still the best. Though I might like other conductors a little better in idividual symphonies (Tennstadt in the 5th, Kubelik or Klemperer in the 2nd, Walter in the 9th) this is still the greatest overall cycle on record. Bernstein understands Mahler better than just about any other conductor. Perhaps because Bernstein himself is a Mahlerian mix of high philosophy, vulgarity and popular sentiment. As a result, Mahler's unusual stylistic juxtapositions sound less mannered and more organic in Bernstein. I won't break down the set by symphonies but highlights include a marvelous reading of the 4th that really captures the childlike nature of the work; a heaven storming reading of the last movement of the 2nd; A sonically spectacular 8th symphony, and one of the most moving performances of the final movement of the 9th that I've ever heard. This 25 minute, long unbroken line is very hard to pull off in performance but Bernstein matches Walter for forward momentum.

    The extra material on this disc is also wonderful. Particularly revered is the recording of Kindertotenlieder with the marvelous Dame Janet Baker. This is a classic performance.

    Over and above the great performances, the price is unbeatable. You will never get a comparable reading of so much Mahler at such a cheap price. Get this CD, now!...more info

  • Only 9 of Mahler's 10 completed symphonies??
    According to the contents listed, the set contains 2 Kindertotenlieder recordings (one with Jennie Tourel, one with Janet Baker), but NO symphony Das Lied von der Erde. Is this correct?...more info
  • Disagree with GTrain
    I acquired this album even though GTrain panned the work of Reri Grist in the 4th Symphony. I feel that the quality of Grist's voice is exactly the quality voice that Bernstein was looking for in this symphony. She has a child-like quality to her voice which fits exactly with the sentiment being conveyed in the 4th movement....more info
  • Groundbreaking but partly outdated
    Recorded 1960-67, this is the first complete cycle of Mahler's numbered symphonies (1-9 + no. 10 Adagio), and, as such, an essential purchase. Add Bernstein's 1966 classic recording of Das Lied von der Erde (Decca), and you get a piece of recording history: the development of the Mahler boom in the sixties.

    How do these recordings stand today? The interpretations of the third, fourth, and seventh are very fine, even exceptional, and, despite their age, the recordings are sonically impressive as well. NYPO plays marvellously. The seventh, in particular, is a reference disc.

    The remaining recordings are not really for the desert island, however. The fifth, for instance, is very unsuccessful and badly recorded too. Bernstein's later account on DG is clearly an improvement. The same holds for the second symphony, which you also find on DG in a later, much improved and moving interpretation. But here we have also a crowded field of classic performances, such as Klemperer's second (EMI) and Walter's fifth (SONY). Both are preferable to Bernstein's recordings, old or new.

    The first, sixth, eight and ninth are quite good but not exceptional. No one beats Kubelik's first (DG). Mitropoulos (BMG Great Conductors) and Barbirolli (EMI) own the sixth. The eight - well, here we have Horenstein (BBC) and Mitropoulos (Orfeo) as classic, first choices. And for the ninth, Ancerl (Supraphon), Barbirolli (EMI), Klemperer (EMI) and Walter (SONY) sound far more attractive and fresh than Bernstein's mannered account.

    If you're a collector this box is of course essential - regardless all critical considerations. But if you just look for an excellent and consistent Mahler box, go for Gary Bertini's cycle on EMI, which you get for a super-bargain price. It's a contemporary and future classic.

    Thus I recommend a pick of individual Bernstein SONY CDs: the third, the fourth and the seventh. Add his seventh, sixth, fifth and second from his DG recordings, and his 1966 Das Lied von der Erde (Decca). These recordings are what I take to be the "essentials" of the Bernstein Mahler legacy.

    ...more info
  • Comparing the two Bernstein Mahler cycles
    Most buyers aren't in the market for a complete Mahler cycle by a single conductor, but if they were, the two from Bernstein contain many great performances. I've reviewed the contents of this Sixties cycle on Sony and the later one from the Eighties (contianing many live performances) on DG, taking them one symphony at a time. But it's worthwhile to give a sense of the strongest and weakest parts of each set.

    Cycle #1:

    By general consensus the performance of Sym. #3 is one of the glories of this cycle and perhaps the most inspired Mahler condcuting Bernstein did on disc. It has all the freshness of discovery--LB was new to Mahler in 1961. Sony's 20-bit remastering makes the original analog sound quite good. In fact, there's no need to fear the sound quality of these NY Phil. recordings, none of which are bad. Expect the deep sound stage and wide stereo separation that Columbia Records favored at the time.

    Bernstein also put his stamp on Sym. #7 in such a way that no one would ever hear it the same again. Previously, 'The Song of the Night,' as this work was dubbed, had almost no life either on disc or the concert stage (a Mahler champion as prominent as Bruno Walter never performed it). Not only did LB prove that this was coherent music, he made an unforgettable drama out of the Seventh. This is his signature recording of the work.

    Two other great performances stand out: Sym. #2 and #4, each rendered with amazing imagination and a huge range of emotions. The accusation that LB went over the top in the Second is unjustified--he is often tender and delicate--but there's no doubt that he takes an apocalyptic view of the finale. Whatever you think about his approach, he single-handedly revolutionized the way that the Resurrection Sym. was played. In Sym. #4 the classic recording was by Bruno Walter, but LB added more depth, imaginaiton, and excitement. Lyric soprano Reri Grist has come in for a good deal of criticism in the vocal finale, but I think she fits beautifully into LB's overall conception.

    In the middle of the pack, as it were, we get LB's readings of Sym. #1 and #9. He went on to conduct greater readings of both works, especially the Ninth. In person LB's First was a real showpiece, but somehow Sony's sonics are not up to the conductor's vision. In the cse of the Ninth, the NY version would qualify as an outstanding performance if there weren't so many truly great ones from Karajan, Bruno Walter, James Levine, and Barbirolli, among others. Bernstein himself would add two of the greatest, both on DG.

    I find a few problems wiht Sym. #5, #6, and #8 in the first cycle. For many critics all three are great recordings. For some reason, I have never warmed up to either of LB's versions of Sym. #5, where for once he does manipulate and exaggerate to the point that the spirit of the work seems lost in histrionics. Sym. #6 is too brisk in the first movement to let the music expand to its visionary potential, and in the other movements Bernstein seems less expressive than he could be. The Eighth is unmathced in the excitement and joyousness of Part 1, and for some listeners the whole symphony remains on that exalted level. I find that LB is too studied in Part 2, and my attention wasn't held. He does elicit very beautiful singing and playing, however. It should be noted that this performance is with the London Sym. and a host of fine English singers.

    To the end of his life Bernstein resisted Deryck Cooke's completion of the Tenth Sym., agreeing to conduct only the shattering Adagio. which Mahler had essentially finished in full score. Bernstein's reading with the NY Phil. is one of the most searing accounts this magnificent fragment has ever received, equaled by his later live reading with the incomparable Vienna Phil.

    Cycle #2:

    It should be said right off that DG's digital sonics are in a different league from what LB got in New York. Even though several venues were involved (Vienna, Amsterdam, New York), and many recordings were under live concert conditions, the DG engineers triumphed. They favor closer mike posiitons, solo highlighting, and a vivid sound stage compared to their predecessors in New York. As to the interprettions, with a few exceptions--the most prominent being Sym. #6--Bernstein did not drastically change his views from the first cycle, and in some cases the readings feel almost identical (Sym. #2 and #7, for example).

    The most interest centers on the works where LB clearly outdoes his younger self. At the top of the list I would put Sym. #6 and #9. In the former he achieved one of the classic Mahler reacordings of the modern era. His Sixth has slowed down by 2 min. in the first movement, giving the music room to expand properly. The Andante is heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time. The finale is an explosion of genius on Mahler's part that LB resonates with perfectly. Almost the same can be said of the Ninth, where the conducting reaches deeply moving areas of expression. The finale is drastically slow (as is Levine's, to similar devastating effect), which some critics find excessive. But it's a truism that no tempo is right or wrong; everything depends upon being drawn into the world of the music. LB achieved a great Ninth but would surpass himself with a live performance from Berlin in 1979, also on DG.

    Almost as great is Sym. #1, which on DG receives a flawless performance packed with excitement. I'm not sure that LB's reading actually changed, but the superlative sonics and the spine-tingling playing of the Concertgebiuw weren't matched in New York.

    The next thing to ask is where Bernstein fell short of his earlier versions. The Sym. #2, #3, and #4 from New York were one of a kind, representing LB's early and most exciting explorations of Mahler's world. Their counterparts on DG are also strong, but I don't think they rise to the heights he achieved earlier. The only sharp criticism I have is with the use of a boy soprano in the finale of the Fourth; musical as he is, a boy is too undeveloped to capture what Mahler intended. It should be said, however, that if the earlier NY versions didn't exist, these would be outstanding performances.

    I feel much the same about Sym. #7, where LB's first recording set a standard that only two or three rivals have come close to, but his DG remake, which was a return to the NY Phil. in oncert from Lincoln Center(as are Sym. #2 and #3), feels fractionally less overwhelming. It's in better sound, however. The one symphony I can't compare is the Fifth, which doesn't satisfy me in either cycle. The DG version with the Vienna Phil. convinces many listeners, and some critics call in unsurpassable, but I am not on its wavelength.

    That leaves Sym. #8, which Bernstein didn't live to record for commercial release. DG reached into its vaults for a live 1975 radio tape from Vienna, and although it has flaws in execution, including some rough singing in Part 2, LB's conducting is superlative, more ocmpelling than his version from London. Paired with this symphony is a 1974 reading of the Adagio from Sym. #10, also with the Vienna Phil. As you'd expect, it's an inspired, searing reading, just like the NY version.

    How ot sum up? If money were no object, I'd own both cycles for the pleasure of Bernstein's unqiue inspiration. If I had to pick and choose, I'd take Sym. #2, #3, and #4 from New York, Sym. #8 from London, and the rest form the DG cycle.

    ...more info
  • Too wide dynamic range
    The technical problem with this set is that the dynamic range is too large. There are passages that come out of the speakers at an extremely low volume -- so low that one can literally not hear them. So one turns the volume knob to raise the volume. In a few minutes the speakers are shaking the walls of the apartment. So one turns down the volume knob. So the next one hears nothing come out of the speakers, because it is a low volume. And so on, ad nauseaum......more info
  • The Clear First Choice
    Finally, Sony has given us the complete Mahler box of Bernstein's first cycle, recorded through the 1960s mostly with the NY Philharmonic. Historically, this marked a major and important point, since it served to start the surge in Mahler's popularity that continues today.

    There are other Mahler boxes out there, including Bernstein's second cycle on DG, Tennstedt, Solti, etc., but none can now beat the combination of fine music-making and price that comes together in this one.

    Overall, these earlier recordings are better than his later ones, save for Symphony #5 and perhaps #1. This early cycle contains arguably the finest ever recordings of Symphonies 3, 6, 8 and 9, and, unlike other Mahler sets, there is nothing here that is of questionable quality. Those familiar with Bernstein know his emotional approach to this music, his pushing at the boundaries of expression, but he never reaches the self-indulgent points that are riddled throughout his later cycle. This is the finest combination of expression and concentration in any Mahler cycle.

    And there's more; the Kindertotenlieder with Janet Baker, a selection of Ruckert songs, and the live recordings of the first part of Symphony 8 for the opening of Lincoln Center and the Adagietto performed for the funeral of Bobby Kennedy. Glorious moments. Hard-core completists may be disappointed that only the Adagio from Symphony 10 is here, but Bernstein never considered the various completed version valid.

    The recorded sound is improved, but not superb. It has greater transparency, range, and richness though, peculiarly, not a lot of depth. But it is still fine. The NY Phil at this time had a nice, dark sound, which at times turns toward the sour, especially in the brass, and the horns don't have the beauty of tone heard on the later cycle, but these are minor points. The music is great. I would urge anyone looking for the complete Mahler symphonies to buy this set - it's not only one of the best-priced, but it is simply the best music....more info

  • Great Bargain
    I have extensively listened to several interpretations of Mahler's symphonies and would like to help you, the buyer, decide what your best approach to collecting Mahler's complete symphonies would be.

    #1. Excellent performance and none of the annoying conducting Bernstein is known for.

    #2. I think this is the best version of the 2nd I've heard. No one seems to get the intro right compared to Bernstein.

    #3. Excellent performance. Pure music making here minus the over-the-top goofiness Lenny is known for.

    #4. This performance I didn't like. I would purchase Szell's account at bargain price to suppliment this collection. Bernstein seems to miss the sweetness completely and magnify the paranoia and overexaggerate the tempo chages.

    #5. Throw this cd in the trash. That's where it belongs. Bad playing AND bad sound quality = disaster. I'd go with Sir John Barbirolli's account or Simon Rattle's recent live account. If you don't mind spending ~$18 go with Rattle.

    #6. Red blooded performance. A little on the quick side but Lenny's overindulgence and paranoia make this one shine brightly. Lots of 20th century horror here.

    #7. Great performance and late night spookiness here. Love those horns!!

    #8. Great performance.

    #9. Great performance. Definetely Mahler's last stand. All the pain, sorrow, and melancholy is here. This one has nice sound too.

    #10(1st movement only). This is really sloppy compared to Simon Rattle's 10th and is also not complete. Go with Rattle for the 10th. Under his baton the music scared the hell out of me when I first heard it(and currently if I'm not really paying attention). And I can be sure it'll scare you as well.

    I think a person looking to collect Mahler has the best path by buying this set as well as supplementing the set by seperate performances of the 4th and 5th....more info

  • Groundbreaking Cycle!!!
    You have before you one of the great testimonials of the passion and beauty of Mahler's music. Bernstein really gets inside the music of Mahler in a way very few conductors do..I find in some regards the sound of the NY PHIL not as refined as some but with wondeful expression and faithfully following the letter of the score Bernsten achieves dynamic performances from the NY PHil.

    The 5th is given a superbly controlled reading and the finest performance here is the Ninth...superbly played and without affectation!!!...more info
  • A Must Have For Music Collectors and Lovers!!
    I'm usually not a fan of "all in one" sets of recorded music. But this set blows all others out of the water! If there were 10 stars to give, I would give 10. The only thing you'll need to supplement this album is a full score of each symphony, and concert hall surround sound! Absolutely astounding sound will come from your stereo from these CD's! All of the symphonies of Mahler are contained in this work, including the 8th Symphony which was written for 1000 performers!! 1000 people performing at once takes some mastery to record, and this CD has it. If you have been priveleged enough to have ever heard the 8th Symphony live (it has been performed only a dozen times since the early 1900's. I was able to see the O.C. Tanner Gift of Music Production live last year.), your memories will be brought back by this amazing set. All of the pieces are performed marvelously, and the covers and case are beautifully decorated. Listen, and let go of the world for a time with this great collection of one of the greatest composers to ever enter the realm of classical music!!...more info
  • Mahler complete symphonies.
    "Mahler was an altogether great man" -One who also knows a thing or two....more info


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