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Discussion: Mahler: Symphony No. 4 - San Francisco/Michael Tilson Thomas

Posts: 36
Page: 1 2 3 4 next

Post by tream March 15, 2004 (1 of 36)
I note that Dinko, who resides in Montreal, has given a rave review to a non-SACD performance played by the Montreal Metropolitan Orchestra conducted by Yannick Nezet-Saugin (both names new to me) and that the MTT Mahler 4, which he was actually reviewing, came off second best (by a lot).
I, on the the other hand, work in San Francisco, and live nearby, and of course I found the MTT Mahler 4 a revelation. (Now I'm going to throw out the gauntlet - anyone who thinks that the 3rd movement overstays its welcome can't be trusted....)
Of course, the above is all tongue in cheek (if this were the audio asylum, by now we would be questioning each other's lineage, intelligence and honesty-thankfully, it is not), and I have been concerned that I have a "homer's" attitude towards the MTT Mahler series, much of which I've heard live and found tremendously persuasive (especially the commitment of the SFS, which plays extremely well, and with much emotion). I find that my reactions have been generally validated by others both on this forum and elsewhere for sound and performance(although the English press has been a little less enthusiastic than the US press). I haven't heard the YNS performance although I did check out the URL Dinko supplied. YNS seems to be a young man, making his first recordings-good for him. Given that I think the MTT performance is very strong, it is on SACD, and so on, I probably will not be buying the YNS performance. I own Horenstein, Walter and Kubelik as well, and feel pretty well covered with 4ths. I think I would be more likely to acquire Klemperer or Bernstein first than the YNS recording. I encourage others to review the MTT performance and perhaps the YNS in comparison, however, and post their reviews.

Post by Dinko March 15, 2004 (2 of 36)
Here's a little more to the story...

(Subjectivity explained. :D )

When I got the YNS Mahler 4th, I didn't expect much. He's not the type of conductor I expected to do well in Mahler. The Montreal Metropolitan Orchestra is fairly young. It's not a big band either. Not exactly a Mahler orchestra. But their smaller chamber-like quality has it's advantages in clearing up Mahler's textures, and no symphony is more appropriate for this orchestra than the fourth. Still, they traditionally don't have the weight to pull off a Mahler symphony. The biggest surprise was Karina Gauvin. I always found her overrated. Thought it was just local media trying to hype up her career because she was local. I never liked what I heard of her on radio. And then her singing touched me more than Popp, Battle, Hendricks or Bonney. So part of my high opinion of the disc comes from the surprise factor. I had no intention of buying the thing because technically, neither conductor, nor orchestra, let alone the soprano should have been able to pull it off. It was a spontaneous reaction in the record store. "Oh what the heck, might as well hear it."

On the other hand, having really liked the first three releases in the SFS set, knowing that the SFS is a better band the the Montreal Metropolitan (not to be confused with the Montreal Symphony) and that the team behind the SFS releases (Neubronner, Heiland, etc) has more experience that the team behind the YNS, I expected a lot from the MTT Fourth, pre-ordered it... and it didn't deliver what I expected. Part of my expectations for the MTT 4th were created by the unexpected quality of the YNS 4th. By all criteria, at least on paper, the MTT 4th should have mopped the floor with the YNS recording, but that didn't happen.

I think a large part of my problem with the MTT 4th is microphone placement and final mixing which is too "in-your-face" for me, at least on A/B comparisons. The YNS version probably used an aray of microphones as well, but it captures a more distant, Church-like sound.

I find the MTT First and Sixth more spontaneous than the Fourth. There is little actual spontaneity in the YNS recording - everything seems to have been overplanned and overrehearsed. How the orchestra maintains and projects interest under such circumstances is beyond me. How such an overplanned, overrehearsed album comes out as more lively than a live concert, I don't know myself. It's just the impression I get when comparing the two discs.

But in any case, the SFS Fourth reminds me of some of the LSO Live releases which I don't particularly like when it comes to sound. It sounds recorded, there's a constant awareness of microphones, and reproduction media. The SFS sound better because they're delivered on SACD, but the basics behind the sound picked up by the microphones is similar.

I think that if the YNS recording were recorded in DSD and released on SACD, it would sound much better than the SFS discs. As it is, I find it sounds better mostly due to microphone pick up, rather than reproduction media and recording technology.
There's no doubt that the MTT sounds louder, in terms of orchestral dynamics it also sounds more natural, and that the increased dynamic range of the SACD offers better reproduction of some nuances than the YNS CD.
But once again, technology can only do so much. You can record an orchestra in DSD or 24/192, but if you place the orchestra in a cavern and hang a single microphone from the GoodYear blimp, you're not going to get a pretty sound picture.

I'd be more than interested in reading anyone's opinion on the YNS disc if they ever hear it. Local media have been raving about it, but that's to be expected as local media rave about any local product, be it Celine Dion or Yannick Nezet-Seguin.

Post by zeus March 15, 2004 (3 of 36)
I just attached this thread to the title concerned so this interesting discussion doesn't get lost later.

Stephen

Post by nucaleena March 16, 2004 (4 of 36)
Dinko said:

Here's a little more to the story...

(Subjectivity explained. :D )

When I got the YNS Mahler 4th, I didn't expect much. He's not the type of conductor I expected to do well in Mahler. The Montreal Metropolitan Orchestra is fairly young. It's not a big band either. Not exactly a Mahler orchestra. But their smaller chamber-like quality has it's advantages in clearing up Mahler's textures, and no symphony is more appropriate for this orchestra than the fourth. Still, they traditionally don't have the weight to pull off a Mahler symphony. The biggest surprise was Karina Gauvin. I always found her overrated. Thought it was just local media trying to hype up her career because she was local. I never liked what I heard of her on radio. And then her singing touched me more than Popp, Battle, Hendricks or Bonney. So part of my high opinion of the disc comes from the surprise factor. I had no intention of buying the thing because technically, neither conductor, nor orchestra, let alone the soprano should have been able to pull it off. It was a spontaneous reaction in the record store. "Oh what the heck, might as well hear it."

On the other hand, having really liked the first three releases in the SFS set, knowing that the SFS is a better band the the Montreal Metropolitan (not to be confused with the Montreal Symphony) and that the team behind the SFS releases (Neubronner, Heiland, etc) has more experience that the team behind the YNS, I expected a lot from the MTT Fourth, pre-ordered it... and it didn't deliver what I expected. Part of my expectations for the MTT 4th were created by the unexpected quality of the YNS 4th. By all criteria, at least on paper, the MTT 4th should have mopped the floor with the YNS recording, but that didn't happen.

I think a large part of my problem with the MTT 4th is microphone placement and final mixing which is too "in-your-face" for me, at least on A/B comparisons. The YNS version probably used an aray of microphones as well, but it captures a more distant, Church-like sound.

I find the MTT First and Sixth more spontaneous than the Fourth. There is little actual spontaneity in the YNS recording - everything seems to have been overplanned and overrehearsed. How the orchestra maintains and projects interest under such circumstances is beyond me. How such an overplanned, overrehearsed album comes out as more lively than a live concert, I don't know myself. It's just the impression I get when comparing the two discs.

But in any case, the SFS Fourth reminds me of some of the LSO Live releases which I don't particularly like when it comes to sound. It sounds recorded, there's a constant awareness of microphones, and reproduction media. The SFS sound better because they're delivered on SACD, but the basics behind the sound picked up by the microphones is similar.

I think that if the YNS recording were recorded in DSD and released on SACD, it would sound much better than the SFS discs. As it is, I find it sounds better mostly due to microphone pick up, rather than reproduction media and recording technology.
There's no doubt that the MTT sounds louder, in terms of orchestral dynamics it also sounds more natural, and that the increased dynamic range of the SACD offers better reproduction of some nuances than the YNS CD.
But once again, technology can only do so much. You can record an orchestra in DSD or 24/192, but if you place the orchestra in a cavern and hang a single microphone from the GoodYear blimp, you're not going to get a pretty sound picture.

I'd be more than interested in reading anyone's opinion on the YNS disc if they ever hear it. Local media have been raving about it, but that's to be expected as local media rave about any local product, be it Celine Dion or Yannick Nezet-Seguin.

dear dinko and tream, am very interested in both of your comments on the recording of the MTT fourth, especially re. over-close microphone placement. Tream has already suggested (possibly with tongue in cheek) that i may dislike this recording for that very reason. I guess I'll find out when my order-copy arrives, but I'd be v. interested to hear your opinions of whether the fourth has a different sound to the earlier releases, which i found to be close but not too close. I'd be really sorry to hear this series go downhill sonically after such a good start, but the same has happened to pentatone (after a terrific mahler disc) so it can happen.

I agree with both of you about performances. With Dinko in that MTT and the SFS are very good but he does get a bit wayward with tempi (prefer Abbado's) and he doesn’t generate the electricity of some other conductors in Mahler (e.g. the second Bernstein recording of the 1st) and Tennstedt in the later works. However, I also agree with Tream that, overall, when you factor in the excellent sound (to date anyway) the first three releases are well worth hearing and having.

Post by Dinko March 16, 2004 (5 of 36)
nucaleena said:

I'd be v. interested to hear your opinions of whether the fourth has a different sound to the earlier releases, which i found to be close but not too close. I'd be really sorry to hear this series go downhill sonically after such a good start, but the same has happened to pentatone (after a terrific mahler disc) so it can happen.

I think the sound on the MTT 4th is pretty much in the same style as the first three releases. I can't detect any significant differences. The cycle is definitely not going downhill, at least not within the standards it set for itself. I find the 4th to be consistent with the other symphonies, as much in performance as in sonics.

Post by peteyspambucket March 17, 2004 (6 of 36)
It just goes to show that there can be hundreds of SACDs in the catalog, but there aren't really that many that are good or worth buying. The novelty of SACD is wearing thin on me because of the awful descision-making on which performances that the labels are choosing to release on SACD - especially in the classical department.

I haven't heard the YNS or the MTT yet (but I have MTT's (Mahler 1st, 3rd, and 6th), but I have very little faith that they will stand up to Karajan, Levine, Maazel, or Bernstein in the interpretation department.

I'm tired of spending extra money on second rate performances so I can hear them in splendid sound.

Post by zeus March 17, 2004 (7 of 36)
peteyspambucket said:

It just goes to show that there can be hundreds of SACDs in the catalog, but there aren't really that many that are good or worth buying.

I wouldn't agree on your cursory assessment. SACDs (or their CD equivalents) regularly make it into Gramophone's monthly Editor's Choice. I'm pretty selective about what I buy (mostly European recordings) but have found some great stuff on SACD. Case in point, the Bach: Christmas Oratorio - Netherlands Bach Society I got recently. This now displaces Gardiner as my favourite (though I'm informed the Jacobs is also excellent). And there's plenty of other similar finds which I've documented here. The idea is to use all the resources available (here and elsewhere) to help sort the good performances from the not so good.

I haven't heard this latest addition to the MTT/Mahler cycle but, IMHO, the others have been just OK. It's a pretty crowded field for Mahler and new recordings just keep on coming! I'm happy to have multiple recordings of these as I like to hear different interpretations. There's plenty of scope for this in Mahler.

Post by mdt March 17, 2004 (8 of 36)
zeus said:

I wouldn't agree on your cursory assessment. SACDs (or their CD equivalents) regularly make it into Gramophone's monthly Editor's Choice. I'm pretty selective about what I buy (mostly European recordings) but have found some great stuff on SACD. Case in point, the Bach: Christmas Oratorio - Netherlands Bach Society I got recently. This now displaces Gardiner as my favourite (though I'm informed the Jacobs is also excellent). And there's plenty of other similar finds which I've documented here. The idea is to use all the resources available (here and elsewhere) to help sort the good performances from the not so good.

I haven't heard this latest addition to the MTT/Mahler cycle but, IMHO, the others have been just OK. It's a pretty crowded field for Mahler and new recordings just keep on coming! I'm happy to have multiple recordings of these as I like to hear different interpretations. There's plenty of scope for this in Mahler.

Boulez' recording of Mahler 4 allready avaylable on CD is to come out on SACD. Any comments on that recording ?

Post by zeus March 17, 2004 (9 of 36)
mdt said:

Boulez' recording of Mahler 4 allready avaylable on CD is to come out on SACD. Any comments on that recording ?

I have this CD. There was a fair bit written about Boulez's approach to the 4th in Gramophone (and elsewhere) when this first came out, see:

http://www.gramophone.co.uk/gramofilereview.asp?reviewID=5014&mediaID=185999&issue=Reviewed%3A+Gramophone+5%2F2000

I think beardawgs comments on his 3rd (Mahler: Symphony No. 3 - Boulez) are spot on and would equally apply here. Boulez isn't for everyone. I like him but think his 6th and 7th are better. I expect similar sonics to the 3rd which was OK (better than CD) but not great. Get them all and make your own comparisons!

Post by nucaleena March 17, 2004 (10 of 36)
peteyspambucket said:

It just goes to show that there can be hundreds of SACDs in the catalog, but there aren't really that many that are good or worth buying. The novelty of SACD is wearing thin on me because of the awful descision-making on which performances that the labels are choosing to release on SACD - especially in the classical department.

I haven't heard the YNS or the MTT yet (but I have MTT's (Mahler 1st, 3rd, and 6th), but I have very little faith that they will stand up to Karajan, Levine, Maazel, or Bernstein in the interpretation department.

I'm tired of spending extra money on second rate performances so I can hear them in splendid sound.

petey, i understand where you're coming from but hasn't that always been the way with the industry? It stands to reason that not all performances can be great. And the stream of dull, mid-atlantic and anodyne performances of the same old repertoire with the same old over-hyped house superstars, was a feature of the record scene before CD, twenty years ago.

I'm just grateful for the ones that are great, like Bernstein and Karajan in Mahler. And I'm grateful for the ones that might not be great but do make you listen afresh (the Haenchen Mahler 5 on pentatone for example). And especially for those SACDs that give me truly great performances with great sound, like the Hickox RVW 4th. Out of my SACD collection I could easily award interpretation rosettes to about 7.5% which is no less (and possibly higher) than for LPs or good old Redbook. And looking at the forthcoming releases section which Stephen provides for us, I have no trouble keeping at least a half dozen on my wish list at all times.

Cheer up petey, just give a little whistle, and it'll all turn out right in the end. Oh .......always look.......etc etc

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