I gave John Parks (for whom I am writing a concerto) a copy of the recent Pierre Boulez recording of the Mahler 2 the other evening. Here are some of his comments (from e-mail, published with his permission):
. . . listening to the Mahler right now. It's a shame that the percussion section really didn't think out their sounds. The cymbal playing makes me angry.
After I asked for specifics about the cymbals comment:
European orchestras typically use very old cymbals; usually what we call "Old K" Zildjian cymbals (pre-WWII), and there aren't tons of these instruments left because of the war and the collateral damage of bombing the opera and concert halls. Very dark sounds, which I really like and are totally appropriate for Mahler. In this recording, there's no blossom or body to any of the cymbal sounds, so the cadences don't really have the color, shimmer, and "arrival" that I think appropriate. When I hear cymbals, I want to hear Michael Bookspan with Philly. Anything else is just noise.
Zildjian has, in the past years, rededicated themselves to making new instruments that sound like these old ones-I have several pairs and love them.
Europeans are known for great timpani sounds, but some "schools" over there do not concentrate on the other instruments with the same degree of seriousness. [T]he way the cymbals are being played [in this recording] never allows them to blossom or open up.
"The cymbal playing makes me angry" is my new all-purpose rallying cry.