Robert Cowan makes his pick of the latest reissues; The Kaplan Mahler Edition: Mahler Symphony No 2, Symphony No 5, Piano Rolls etc Benita Valente (soprano), Maureen Forrester (contralto), London Symphony Orchestra / Gilbert Kaplan (Recorded: 1905-1992 (Conifer Classics 75605 51277 2; two discs, including CD Rom)
Friday 30 August 1996
This particular recording was first issued in the UK back in the late 1980s (by Pickwick, now Carlton Classics) and soon established itself as a secure library recommendation. Some sceptics questioned whether an amateur conductor with a repertory of one work had the credentials necessary for a truly comprehensive interpretation. And yet anyone who follows Kaplan's performance with the CD-size reproduction of the full score provided (the "first edition") will note how alert, conscientious and widely observant his reading really is - precise, too, although veteran contralto Maureen Forrester sports a rather wide vibrato.
The question of bargain CD rivalry - Klemperer, Walter, Solti, Kubelik, etc - pales into insignificance when you consider what else is on offer. The score, clearly printed on laminated paper, is just one bonus - but the other extras are, if anything, even more valuable. Readers who are kitted out with state-of-the-art Macintosh or Windows computers will be able to enjoy The Mahler Album, an "interactive CD-Rom presentation" of 151 photographs, paintings and drawings that document Mahler's life from 1865 to 1911.
They're all contained on the second CD (the one with the Second Symphony's last four movements), whereas the first CD is filled out with, among other things, an admirably fluent account of the Fifth Symphony's "Adagietto" - 7'57" to compare with the usual 11 or so minutes. Here Kaplan takes his lead from the great Dutch conductor Willem Mengelberg, a friend of Mahler who confirmed that the movement was intended as a tender "love letter".
Then there are Mahler's piano-roll recordings of songs and movements from the symphonies (Nos 4 and 5) - lumpy, mechanical and conditionally informative... although I have to admit that, to my ears, most piano-rolls sound as if the instrument is playing the pianist rather than vice versa.
Best, in terms of audio documentation, is "Gustav Mahler Remembered", a sequence of 1960s interview fragments - once issued on a Sony/CBS LP - featuring retired instrumentalists who had actually performed under Mahler's baton. "His face was that of a neurasthenic," says one; "there was something saintly about him," says another; while their colleagues report on hairy rehearsals and compare Mahler to Toscanini ("in Mahler's Pastoral, the country dancing was jolly... with Toscanini, he was just waiting for that storm to come up!"). The voices form an especially poignant ensemble (I'd keep the set for their sake alone), whereas Kaplan's extensive programme notes - which quote Mahler's own, and include a generous sequence of letters - are comprehensively informative.
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