Pursuant to my Mahler column this week, here's a list of favorite recordings of the nine, ten, or eleven Mahler symphonies, depending on how you count them. I do this with some trepidation, since Mahler is a personal matter and my tastes are hardly the same as, say, Alec Baldwin's. [Update: Or, for that matter, Opera Chic's or Tim Smith's.] But I hope the list will serve as a rough guide to anyone traversing the Mahler mountain range for the first time.
No. 1: Rafael Kubelík, Bavarian Radio Symphony (DG)
No. 2: Simon Rattle, City of Birmingham Symphony (EMI)
No. 3: Jascha Horenstein, London Symphony (Unicorn) or Claudio Abbado, Berlin Philharmonic (DG)
No. 4: Iván Fischer, Budapest Festival Orchestra (Channel Classics)
No. 5: Leonard Bernstein, Vienna Philharmonic (DG)
No. 6: Pierre Boulez, Vienna Philharmonic (DG)
No. 7: Michael Tilson Thomas, London Symphony (BMG)
No. 8: Horenstein, London Symphony, 1959 (BBC Legends)
No. 9: Bernstein, Berlin Philharmonic, 1979 (DG)
No. 10: Rattle, Berlin Philharmonic (EMI)
Rückert Lieder, Kindertotenlieder, Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen: Janet Baker, John Barbirolli, New Philharmonia Orchestra (EMI)
Das Lied von der Erde: Christa Ludwig, Fritz Wunderlich, Otto Klemperer, New Philharmonia Orchestra (EMI)
Fischer's Fourth is brand new, but it has the ring of a classic. I've included an alternative version of the Third because the Horenstein is out of print and may be difficult to find. Also, the budget-minded won't go wrong by substituting Sony Classical's two-CD package of Bruno Walter's First and Second. There are so many other recordings that I love: Dimitri Mitropoulos's First, raucous and alive; John Barbirolli's relentlessly chilling Sixth, my introduction to the piece; Hermann Scherchen's Seventh, fascinatingly twisted and dark; and two other unforgettable Walter discs — his Das Lied with the dying Kathleen Ferrier and his Ninth in the dying city of Vienna. Needless to say, even the most storied recordings are a poor substitute for the primal thrill of Mahler live. My first experience of the composer was at the National Symphony in 1978, with Antal Doráti conducting the "Resurrection"; I was ten, and I've been a Mahler nut ever since.