Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Music I'm Listening To: Ranking the Mahler Symphonies

Ranking the Mahler symphonies: The Third is far and away my favorite. Followed by the Sixth, the First, The Fifth, the Fourth, and the Ninth, in that order, and then numbers 7, 8, and 2, although, I must admit that it's only the Second that I actually don't enjoy. The Seventh and Eighth I simply haven't listened to as much as some of the others.

My favorite recording of the Third remains the recording by Maurice Abravanel and the Utah Symphony Orchestra. I first discovered this recording, on LP (Vanguard Cardinal Series VCS10072/73, my copy pictured above), by chance in the cut-out bin of a record store in Columbus, Ohio back in the early 1980s, long before I had ever really listened to Mahler in earnest. I thought it sublimely beautiful, and still do. Years later, I was thrilled and relieved to find it re-released on CD, as I had feared I would wear out the grooves on the LP never able to replace it.

I can't imagine a finer performance of this piece, and the sound is ethereal. On a road trip across the United States, in 2009, in search of things beyond my grasp, atheist though I am, I stopped in Salt Lake City to pay homage to the Mormon Tabernacle because it's where this recording was made. The Tabernacle is manned by eager young Mormons who want to talk about God, I found. The young woman who approached me, visiting from Brazil, I think it was, didn't understand why I was there. Although the Tabernacle is an odd building--looking much like a tired roller skating rink or a hockey arena with a stage and chairs in it instead of ice, and with wooden columns painted to look like marble--it's magical for its sound.

The other Abravanel Mahler symphony recordings are very good, too, but this is a standout. In fact, if I had to pick a single recording from among the thousands that I own--of any music by any composer--to take with me to a desert island, I'd probably pick this.

A bounded infinity.
Happy New Year to all my friends and acquaintances—whether Mahler excites you or not.

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