Digital techniques have brought such grandeur to the recording of standard repertoire that many people now feel obliged to restock their entire collection. Certainly two new Mahler recordings are strong advertisements for doing so. Mahler himself in 1896 unwittingly uttered a plea to be recorded digitally: “The aspect of instrumentation in which I consider my-
self ahead of past and present composers can be summed up in a single word: clarity.” Klaus Tennstedt, Simon Rattle and their engineers are well aware that Mahler’s ears were 80 years ahead of his time. In Mahler’s Tenth Symphony (Angel/EMl), Rattle is generally more searching and impassioned than Tennstedt’s rendering of the Third Symphony with the London Philharmonic Orchestra (Angel/EMI), but both conductors provide expansive and highly sympathetic readings. There will never be a definitive Tenth Symphony (Mahler completed only the astonishing
first movement), but Rattle’s recording with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra easily eclipses all previous ones. No young conductor is more worth watching.
One wonders what might happen if Rattle joined forces with the Vienna Philharmonic, which brings a ravishing mittel-European bloom of sound to an impressive digital disc of Brahms’s Fourth under Carlos Kleiber (DG/PolyGram). Kleiber aims for the paradox of relaxed intensity and holds this line powerfully for three movements. Sadly, he imperils the proceedings with a clinical final movement.
As if to remind us that digital is not everything, the first digital recording of Beethoven’s Ninth is a pedestrian affair, performed by Bernard Haitink and the Concertgebouw of Amsterdam (Philips/PolyGram). The digital sound places a halo on the choral finale, but Haitink allows the elemental first, electrifying second and ethereal third movements to emerge stolid.
Conversely, a new non-digital disc of Dvorák’s Seventh by Andrew Davis and the Philharmonia of London (CBS) is worthy despite occasionally mushy sound and questionable balance. Dvorák is the most genial tragedian and Davis wisely gives a glowing and comfortable sheen to the vigor of the drama. By next year no doubt there will be a digital recording of the same symphony. As with all digital discs, give it preference only if it’s an improvement musically and sonically. —JOHN PEARCE
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