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Posted October 1, 2010
It was a delight to see that this historic performance has at last been released on cd. It was recorded in 1965, not long after Deryck Cooke completed his first version of Mahler's last work (which existed only in a fully sketched-out but largely unorchestrated version at the time of the composer's death in 1911).
While I was never much of a fan of Ormandy, I always enjoyed his performances of Mahler symphonies -- and have remained a great admirer of this recording. I recently listened to my LP version of this performance for the first time in many years after being less than thrilled with hearings of Simon Rattle's and James Levine's versions. The big problem with both the Rattle performance and the Levine performance (which is no longer in print) is that the opening Adagio movement is conducted at such a meandering pace that much of its intensity is lost. Ormandy's performance of the Adagio, by contrast, is quite masterful, with just the right tempos to maintain the forward movement while lingering over and fully developing the most dramatic moments.
Cooke later revised his score, adding parts for fourth trombone, oboe and bassoon, for example, so that contrapuntal figures could be more fully realized. Those differences show up in the later movements but not in the first, which was the most complete movement in Mahler's original sketch. While there might therefore be reason to prefer other performances of the second, fourth and fifth movements, in particular, the Ormandy performance of those movements has always sounded authentically Mahlerian to me.
If you enjoy Mahler's music, particularly his other late works like the Ninth and Das Lied von der Erde, you will find much to admire in this recording.