aurice Abravanel’s Mahler Symphonies have been reissued on CD several times now, and they appear here at a new low price as part of Artemis Records’ revival of the Vanguard label. While they don’t make quite the claim to a collector’s attention that they once did, some of the performances remain surprisingly enjoyable despite much Mahlerian water under the bridge in the decades since they were first issued. This particular twofer contains a couple of the best performances in the lot, securely played and generally well recorded.
In the Second Symphony, Abravanel turns in a swift and direct performance very much in the Bruno Walter mold, and the only shortcomings lie with the orchestra’s thin lower strings and less-than-glorious brass. Still, there are touches of color that Abravanel finds in this music that no one else does (such as the buzz of stopped horns after the scherzo’s climax), and for some voice mavens the participation of soprano Beverly Sills, however brief, always has served as an attraction. So while hardly a first recommendation, this is a version that maintains its appeal to those who like their Mahler neatly done.