Neumann - Mahler Symphonies (11 CD box set, FLAC)
Neumann – Mahler Symphonies (11 CD box set, FLAC)

Composer: Gustav Mahler
Performer: Eva Randova, Christa Ludwigova, Gabriela Benackova, Magdalena Hajossyova, Miroslav Kejmar, Prague Philharmonic Choir, Kühn Children´s Chorus
Orchestra: Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
Conductor: Vaclav Neumann
Audio CD
SPARS Code: DDD
Number of Discs: 11
Format: Box set
Label: Supraphon Records
Size: 2.63 GB
Recovery: +3%
Scan: yes

CD 01
Symphony No. 1 in D major
01. Langsam. Schleppend. Wie ein Naturlaut
02. Kräftig bewegt
03. Feierlich und gemessen, ohne zu schleppen
04. Stürmisch bewegt

05. Symphony No. 10 – Adagio

CD 02
Symphony No. 2 in C minor “Resurrection”
01. Allegro maestoso
02. Andante moderato
03. In ruhig fliessender Bewegung
04. Urlicht /aus Des Knaben Wunderhorn/
05. In tempo des Scherzo

CD 03
Symphony No. 3 in D minor
01. I.Teil: Kräfting. Entschieden
02. II.Teil: Tempo di menuetto. Sehr mässig
03. Comodo. Scherzando. Ohne Hast

CD 04
Symphony No. 3 in D minor
01. Sehr langsam. Misterioso
02. Lustig im Tempo und keck in Ausdruck
03. Langsam. Ruhevoll. Empfunden

CD 05
Symphony No. 4 in G major
01. Bedächtig. Nicht eilen (Moderately, not rushed)
02. In gemächlicher Bewegung. Ohne Hast (Leisurely moving, without haste)
03. Ruhevoll. Poco adagio (Peacefully, somewhat slowly)
04. Sehr behaglich /Gedicht aus Des Knaben Wunderhorn/

CD 06
Symphony No. 5 in C sharp minor
01. Trauermarsch. In gemessenem Schritt. Wie ein Kondukt (Trauermarsch. In gemessenem Schritt. Wie ein Kondukt)
02. Stürmisch bewegt. Mit grösster Vehemenz (Stürmisch bewegt. Mit grösster Vehemenz)
03. Scherzo. Kräftig, nicht zu schnell (Scherzo. Kräftig, nicht zu schnell)
04. Adagietto. Sehr langsam
05. Rondo. Finale. Allegro

CD 07
Symphony No. 6 in A minor
01. Allegro energico, ma non troppo. Heftig, aber markig
02. Scherzo. Wuchtig
03. Andante moderato
04. Finale. Sostenuto

CD 08
Symphony No. 7 in E minor
01. Langsam (Adagio)
02. Nachtmusik. Allegro moderato
03. Schattenhaft. Fliessend, aber nicht schnell; in den Anfangstakten noch etwas zögernd

Also available:  Jochum: Bruckner - Symphony no.7 (APE)

CD 09
Symphony No. 7 in E minor
01. Nachtmusik. Andante amoroso
02. Rondo-Finale. Tempo I. (Allegro ordinario)

Symphony No. 8 in E flat major (Symphony of a Thousand)
03. Hymnus: Veni, creator spiritus. Allegro impetuoso (Hymnus: Veni, creator spiritus. Allegro impetuoso)

CD 10
Symphony No. 8 in E flat major (Symphony of a Thousand)
01. Schlusszene aus Faust. Poco adagio (Schlusszene aus Faust. Poco adagio)

CD 11
Symphony No. 9 in D major
01. Andante comodo
02. Im Tempo eines gemächlichen Ländlers
03. Rondo. Burleske. Allegro assai
04. Adagio

You Should Hear This!

It pains me not to give five stars, but this is a box set – how can everything be perfect? OK OK… five stars anyway. I’d feel bad otherwise. Listeners coming here have most likely already heard several versions of each symphony by other conductors and want to learn about these performances. Neumann provides lyrical, expressive interpretations of the symphonies. This isn’t Bernstein or Solti or even Horenstein. This is Neumann, and when he’s good, he’s phenonemal.

The Third is a treasure – the most natural sounding version I’ve heard. Great first movement, and big thumbs up to the flugelhorn player in the third movement – not the distant echo the score suggests, but the outstanding delivery makes that quite acceptable. Overall a Third you can listen to in one long sitting – very rare indeed! His Fifth is loaded with warmth. I like it better than his Leipzig performance overall. I don’t like a supercharged finale. He finishes similar to Barbirolli here – that’s the way I like it.

The Second and Fourth… great. Sixth… nice work. Eighth… excellent and well sung. Again, these are opinions. You will have your own and will inevitably find yourself comparing Neumann’s readings to other conductors and thinking, “Wow, I haven’t heard it like that before.” Some moments may sound more enlightening than others. The overall impression this set left me – beautiful. Not overly angsty, tortured Mahler; rather, Mahler led by a dedicated conductor and a fantastic Czech orchestra.

Six excellent recordings and three disappointments

Vaclav Neumann (1920-95) was the first conductor behind the Iron Curtain to record all the Mahler symphonies. He did so with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, where he was kaepllmesiter from 1964-68, and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra of these recordings, where he gained greatest fame as chief conductor from 1968-90.

Perhaps owing to the enforced mantra of Socialist reality in East Germany and Czechoslovakia during his time, beauty tends to replace neuroses in his recordings. Indeed, Neumann’s Mahler is about as far removed temperamentally as possible from the Mahler-as-neurotic standard of Bernstein, Solti, Tilson Thomas and others in the West.

Instead, Neumann focuses on beauty of sound and orchestral execution. Even in the tempestuous closing movement of the “Tragic” Symphony No. 6, where Mahler’s hero ascends only to consistently be knocked down by timpani strokes, there is lovelineess in Neumann’s interpretation and in the playing of the Czech orchestra.

There is prodigious beauty herre in the Symphonies Nos. 1-4, 8 and the 22-minute fragment of Symphony 10. The best work in the box, in my opinion, comes in these scores. The “Titan” symphony is magnificently played and recorded and is linked to the Adagio of Mahler’s incomplete Symphony 10. Neumann’s “Resurrection” symphony — a tidy and exciting 75-minute performance — has been famous for years. Greatest surprise to me was the wonderful performance of the Symphony No. 4, which intermingles charm and drama with a child’s view of heaven. This performance may be the best one in the set and one of the few by this conductor and orchestra I had never previously read about.

Similar plaudits are due Neumann’s conception of the two longest and most immalleable of Mahler creations, the Symphonies Nos. 3 and 8. Under Neumann, these symphonies are unified, beautiful and logical. The playing, singing, pacing and overall interpretation of both lengthy symphonies gives them a lighter than air feeling when compared to more volatile (and more famous) renditions I’ve encountered from Solti, Abbado, Bernstein and Rattle. Neumann’s “Symphony of the Thousand” won the prestigious Grand Prix du Disque award for choral music in 1983 and outstanding by any measure; it compares well to any version extant. See my review of his pairing of these two for more commentary Symphony 3 in D.

While some critics sing the praises of the Neumann-Czech Philharmonic renditions of the Symphonies 5-7, I found none of them to be of the first rank. The 9th isn’t bad, just average. The others have lengthy stretches of boring, average or wayward interpretaion and playing, espcially Symphony No. 7. Neumann also recorded Mahler in Leipzig before returning to Prague in 1968 after Karel Ancerl bolted the Czech Philharmonic when Soviet tanks and troops crushed the “Prague spring” uprising. In my opinion, Neumann’s recordings of Mahler: Symphony No. 5 and Symphony 7 are preferable over the ones in this box.

Overall, the Czech Philharmomic recordings, made in Prague’s Rudolfinum across the digital divide from 1976-83, are unrelentingly beautiful and rich in orchestral detail with recordings that match them every step of the way. The playing refelcts the old world practices of one of the world’s most unique ensembles with occasional Slavic bray in horns and woodwinds intact to superb effect.

11 Comments

  1. Heard great things about this set. Can’t wait to give it a good listening!

    Thank you!

  2. wonderful set! i am totally infused in the ‘Resurrection’ right now. many many thanks.

  3. When these recordings were released in 2006 the reviews were so good that I purchased the box set. I never got around to ripping the CDs. I’m thrilled to see that Whatever has saved me the effort. Honestly, my rips always seem substandard. Thank you Whatever. Not just for providing the posts–but for also ensuring all your rips are of the highest quality.

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