Thank you for your comments. As I said in my review I really wanted to welcome Thierry Fischer’s Mahler First, but as there’s a glut of recordings already – ArkivMusic list no less than 157 of them – I have to ask the question: do we really need another version of the piece? And still they come, the latest one from Hannu Lintu and the Finnish Radio Orchestra (Ondine).
Some music-lovers will insist that you can never have too much Mahler, either on record or in the concert hall, but as a devotee of forty years’ standing and a reviewer since 2007 even I’m beginning to feel that Mahler’s music is being damaged by its ubiquity. The noted Mahlerian Bernard Haitink certainly thinks so, as did Lorin Maazel. The latter put it rather well:
‘Great music never suffers at all from being performed beautifully, but just performing a composer more than he had been performed before can actually be a negative … There is nothing that turns people off more than a mediocre performance, so managers and presenters have to be extremely careful that the music they wish to honor is being performed by people who are worthy of the task.’ (Lorin Maazel, speaking to A. J. Goldmann of the Wall Street Journal, October 2010.)
Maurice Abravanel and the Utah Symphony recorded these symphonies at a time when Mahler was still a rarity, and for that we owe them a debt of gratitude. However, that pioneering set has since been eclipsed by far better ones, and while the Utah Symphony acquit themselves well there – and in Thierry Fischer’s First – they just don’t compare with the better ensembles/conductors in the catalogue. Others will – and do - think differently, but at least that helps to provoke dissent and discussion.
Now to my specific ‘assertion’ about the glut of Mahler in our concert halls. Here in the UK not a season goes by without a fistful of his symphonies being programmed; ditto, looking at the BBC Radio 3 schedules it seems one can tune into live Mahler broadcasts from London, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow. It would take an age to establish exact numbers, but I’m left with the overwhelming impression that there is just too much Mahler on offer these days. And given the persistence of what Haitink calls the ‘Mahler cult’ pragmatic concert programmers know this is one composer who’s guaranteed to ‘put bums on seats’.
Looking at your stats I would agree that Mahler is not over-represented in the Utah Symphony’s programmes. In that respect your hometown band are closer to this jaded blogger’s ideal than most:
‘My preference: One Mahler per season, please. These are special works that should be pulled out for special occasions. Like starting pitchers and football players, the musicians and audience need ample recovery time after each exhausting ordeal. (John Montanari, nepr.net, January 2012.)
That said, multiply the Utah Symphony’s programmes by the large number of orchestras in London alone – both resident and visiting – and the picture begins to look very different.
Now, back to my in-tray. And guess what? Waiting for me is the third instalment of Maazel’s Mahler cycle from Signum and Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s Mahler 10th from ATMA Classique….
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