San Francisco Symphony's Mahler Coming on Vinyl
"We did this for audiophiles, really," says the San Francisco Symphony's general manager, John Kieser. "Our distributors around the world have been telling us that it would be terrific if our Mahler series were available as a complete set on vinyl. This is a major endeavor, in that we're talking about 22 LPs."
The boxed set of Michael Tilson Thomas conducting the San Francisco Symphony in their cycle of the symphonies of Gustav Mahler, pressed on 180gm virgin vinyl in a limited edition of 1000 copies, is in its final phase of preproduction. Complete with, on a bonus 45rpm disc, a previously unreleased performance of Mahler's five Rückert Lieder sung by Susan Graham to MTT's piano accompaniment, the set is expected to be released in April 2011.
The success of the project hinges on the SFS selling enough copies to justify the production costs. Pre-orders for the $749 set, secured with a $75 deposit, must be received at www.sfsymphony.org/mahlervinyl by December 31, 2010. The first 250 sets sold will be signed by Tilson Thomas.
The vinyl edition of The Mahler Project, mastered by Kevin Gray of Cohearent Audio & Video, will include Symphonies 19, the Adagio from the unfinished Symphony 10, Kindertotenlieder, Das klagende Lied, Das Lied von der Erde, Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, the orchestral settings of the Rückert Lieder, selections from Des Knaben Wunderhorn, and the bonus disc of the piano arrangement of the Rückerts. Each LP will have its own jacket, and all will be enclosed in a heavyweight slipcase. The set will also include a hardbound book containing notes, bios, texts in three languages, and photographs of Mahler.
"Our Mahler series has always been about matching the excellence of what happens onstage with the production values of the product," Kieser declared. "We also want to make sure that the series is available in as many highest-quality formats as possible. We did a fair amount of research into who would be the person to convert our DSD masters to analog, and Kevin Gray constantly came up. We have received critical recognition for our recorded sound, and this LP set will serve as a capstone to the whole Mahler project."
The bonus disc of Tilson Thomas accompanying Graham brings to mind an old LP set that included two versions of Leonard Bernstein and Christa Ludwig performing selections from Des Knaben Wunderhorn, one with Bernstein conducting the orchestra, the other with Bernstein on piano. Kieser reports that the recording session for the piano version, excerpts from which will be seen and heard on PBS as part of the SFS's Keeping Score series of TV broadcasts, was "one of those sessions where you could really feel something in the air. The two artists had really good chemistry."
The San Francisco Symphony has so far sold over 130,000 copies of its DSD-native, SACD/CD Mahler recordings. Downloads amount to an additional 20,000 sales, with figures for HDtracks.com's fairly recent offering of select 24-bit/96kHz downloads not yet compiled. The recordings, which have won Grammy and other awards, have helped cement the international reputation of Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony as some of the world's leading exponents of Mahler's works.