My favorite Mahler recordings

I'm posting this in celebration of Mahler's birthday (July 7th, 1860). These preferences change all the time; and there's a lot of Boulez here because the series he recorded over the last decade or so made things so CLEAR. They are great 'study' recordings. With age I seem to prefer the clarity.

Bernstein's recordings are an old preference from discovering Mahler in my teens. And a few years ago I picked up his full cycle with the Vienna Phil that was recorded between his two cycles for Columbia/Sony and DG - I think it's a great cycle, in addition to getting to watch him perform.

And Barbirolli is another old fave - slow tempos that somehow stay exciting.

1st - Bernstein, NYPhil
2nd - Bernstein, NYPhil
3rd - Horenstein, LSO
4th - Bernstein, NYPhil
5th - Boulez, Vienna
6th - Barbirolli, New Philharmonia
  (but I also like the Mitropoulos, NYPhil)
7th - Boulez, Cleveland
8th - Boulez, Berlin
Das Lied - Kletzki, Philharmonia
    (Fischer-Dieskau, Dickie)
9th - Barbirolli, Berlin
10th - Rattle, Bournemouth

Honorable mentions:

Tennstedt's complete set
Bernstein's complete DVD cycle with Vienna
  (recorded between his two CD cycles)
The NY Phil set of historic Mahler recordings

other good recordings of the 6th:
Boulez, Horenstein, Szell

the crystal point

I’m find there’s something called “a crystal point”.

I first look at a number and I start out complaining: “How am I going to do it with so few instruments?” “Why does he make these compositional choices? They seem arbitrary.” “Shouldn’t there be a much more different arrangement?”

Then, I’ll go and procrastinate - torrent a little, a book on tape, a book on Kindle.

Then I’ll come back to the chart and maybe look for a starting synth sound, stare at the screen for a few moments ...

Then it lines up ... a sort of ‘crystal point’: suddenly a few colors in my teeny tiny band match an odd choice of the composer - a synth patch work for a figure here - a woodwind choice is just right for the line there - throw away that vocal doubling - add a fill into the gaping hole there with a fill.

This moment usually happens about 1 am. I often stand up and go right to sleep. Colors and choices don’t disappear from memory like pitches and rhythms do (at least for me.)

Occasionally such a crystallizing moment (is that a more apt phrase?) occurs upon first hearing. Receiving an assignment from a performance as opposed to the printed page presents solutions much more quickly. if the emotional journey of the song is clear, and you’ve become familiar with what your present instrumentation can do ... sometimes all the right choices play out in your head as you are listening. The score page becomes an issue of how well you can execute what is already obvious.

The challenge, of course, is when such a moment of crystallization does NOT occur - and you have to move forward anyway. You want to think that only you can recognize which scores were inspired and which ones just got done. But sometimes, it’s all too obvious.

System of a Down

This is a metal group that both of my sons (Josh and Sam) have been enjoying. They stand out from a lot of the metal that my son, Sam, is into - maybe it's the humor of their lyrics, or the fact that everyone in this Southern California based band is ethnically Armenian - and that certainly flavors their sound.

Don't get me wrong - while there's some alternative sounding moments, this is contemporary metal which is a lot harder than the metal of the 80's. (Some of the other metal bands Sam is listening to - Fear Factory, Disturbed, Stone Sour and Stratovarius.)

For more on System of a Down, here are links to iTunesAmazon, and AllMusicGuide