The Mahler Discography review appeared in International Record Review (U.K.) in November 2010.
Mahler Discography Second edition. Péter Fülöp Mikrokosmos Co. Ltd, Toronto, with Mikzol KFT, Budapest (hardback, 568 pages, illustrated, includes CD of rare 1949 recording of Mahler’s Fourth Symphony, conducted by Paul van Kempen, ISBN 978963-06-9566-4, $180.00). Available from websites www.mikrokosmos.com and www.allegro-music.com.
Timed to coincide with the Mahler double anniversary, this labour of love by the Hungarian Mahler enthusiast, record dealer and discophile Péter Fülöp supersedes his earlier edition from 1995. The new volume, produced with financial support from the Kaplan Foundation, weighs in at no fewer than three kilograms. Since the previous edition, the number of Mahler recordings has increased almost 250 per cent, and a whopping total of 2,774 items are now listed, with detailed information about each: recording date and venue; issuing company, catalogue number and format; release and deletion dates, and more.
That prompts an obvious question. The discography is a remarkable achievement and resource for serious collectors, students and archivists, but why isn’t it online (and I confess to a strong preference for reading hard copy over electronic versions)? There is inherent obsolescence with any print encyclopaedia (this one is current up to April 2010), though it must be admitted that online Mahler discographies exist whose scope doesn’t compare to this volume. Not only is continuous updating impossible in print, but the inevitable mistakes in a project of this magnitude could easily be corrected online. One learns here which are the mostrecorded Mahler works: 225 versions of the First Symphony, 176 of the Fifth, 171 of the Fourth, 159 of the Second. By contrast, there are ‘just’ 66 versions of the Eighth and 87 of the Seventh. Various performing versions of the Tenth Symphony occupy 25 recordings.
What sort of collector does it take to collate, catalogue and cross-index this much information? After starting to accumulate Mahler records in Budapest in 1974, Fülöp now claims to own the world’s largest archive of Mahler on record: every Mahler recording ever made, in fact, except for just seven known to exist. (What he terms the rarest Mahler recording of them all – a flowing and smoothly elegant 1949 version of the Fourth Symphony previously issued only on 78s, conducted by Paul van Kempen with the Hilversum Radio Orchestra – is included as a CD transfer with this discography.) Fülöp offers compendious cross-referencing, based on a system of labelling that reminds me of the Dewey Decimal System (DDS). The DDS attempts to organize all knowledge into ten main classes (roughly analogous to Fülöp’s classification of the ten Mahler symphonies …). These categories are then further sub-divided using decimals, as Fülöp does. At first his method seems a bit arcane, even capricious (for example, versions of the complete Fifth Symphony are listed as 5.0xxx, whereas recordings of only the Adagietto are given the locator numbers 5.6xxx or 5.7xxx, even though the Adagietto is the Symphony’s fourth movement). However, one gradually adapts. His system allows the author to catalogue each recording throughout four primary sections: by Works, Artists, Record Labels, Timings.
Lovers of Mahler on disc could spend hours poring over this volume, with its wealth of references and cross-references to every symphony, song and arrangement; beautiful colour reprints of historic album covers (though not every album photo matches the accompanying text, e.g., page 34); and luxurious paper stock. This mountain of information represents the fruit of Fülöp’s passion for collecting and cataloguing as much as his love of Mahler and recordings.
Obviously, the steady rise in Mahler’s reputation and international acceptance parallels the development of the recording medium itself. It all began with the Welte piano rolls of his own music that Mahler made in 1905. Commercial recordings of his works began to be produced a few years after his death in 1911. Those 78rpms were clearly inadequate to deal with the length of the symphonies, though perfectly all right for the songs; but it was the arrival of the LP in 1948 that foretold an increase in attention to Mahler. (One half of Mahler’s symphonies had yet to be recorded just before the LP era began. By the beginning of 1953, all of Mahler’s published works had been recorded.)
Later, with the advent of stereo in 1958, the way was clear for Mahler’s music to be disseminated in a medium that could reflect its dimensions in terms of physical space. The rise of stereo, roughly coinciding with the Mahler centenary in 1960, helped spur the growth of Mahler’s prestige and currency.
Glenn Gould once suggested a link between the Mahler boom of the 1960s and the arrival of stereo, whose microphones could finally impart clarity and ‘dissect’ (a favourite Gould word) the textural complexity of the Second and Eighth Symphonies, while reproducing their uncanny perspectives and juxtapositions.
The most accessible section is the final one, devoted to Timings. For the Sixth Symphony, that chapter specifies not only which recorded versions employ which order of movements II and III (Andante and Scherzo), it also indicates which conductors take the crucial exposition repeat in the first movement. (The first movement repeat in the First Symphony receives similar treatment.) Meanwhile, one is astonished by the variations in timings for the Third Symphony: from 77’37” (Mitropoulos, 1956) to 112’31” (Hisayoshi Inoue, Japan, 2006). By comparison, the bench-mark Horenstein/LSO version takes 97’58”.
Who knew that Bruno Walter led the quickest Fourth Symphony at 49’21” (NYPO, 1945) and also the quickest Fifth at 61’11” (NYPO, 1947) – among 176 versions! It comes as no surprise that Klemperer’s Seventh (recorded in 1968) is the slowest of all at 99’01”. (One year later, Horenstein with the same orchestra clocks in at 73’57”, while Abbado’s glorious Lucerne Festival recording takes 71’11”.) The finale of Walter’s legendary 1938 Ninth in Vienna is the fleetest ever recorded, at 18’16” (Giulini takes 25’12” in the same movement with the Chicago Symphony). Who would imagine that Klemperer conducted the fastest Das Lied (Vienna SO, 1951) at 52’20”? Or that Carlos Kleiber recorded this work with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra in 1967 (his only Mahler recording)? Incidentally, the Artists Index on page 409 lists that performance as with the Vienna Philharmonic, while other references in this volume have it performed by the Vienna Symphony. This brings up the issue of errors in a project where accuracy must be the paramount virtue. A study as ambitious as this must (alas) invariably rely on secondary or even tertiary sources which are often unreliable: conflicting dates, phantom performances and recording venues, etc.
To cite one small example, Fülöp indicates that Horenstein’s recording of Mahler’s Seventh was made in the Royal Festival Hall. So does Deryk Barker’s 1995 discography of Horenstein recordings, as well as the Descant CD imprint. However, according to the BBC Archive, that August 1969 performance was recorded at the Proms in the Royal Albert Hall (the BBC Legends release gets it right, but the Descant version has much better sound). Without on-the-ground archival research (e.g., concert programmes or newspaper reviews) the truth is sometimes hard to find; and the extent to which authors rely on each other (uncredited) is unfathomable. There is also an assortment of typos and misspellings (‘deleted’ and ‘quadraphonic’ on page 28, ‘country’ for ‘county’ on page 41). On page 516, a reference number for the Second Symphony is misstated as if it were for the Third, while on page 404, Bernstein’s Mahler Second finale with the Israel Philharmonic is listed as the fifth movement of the Third, and so forth. There are typos at the top of page 530. In a broader perspective these are niggling reservations. Professor Zoltán Roman’s Introduction usefully places this latest edition by Fülöp in the context of the history of Mahler discographies. For now, it assumes pride of place, a monument to one man’s love of a composer and recordings of his music.