Like the growth of the cult of Christ, the growth of the cult of Mahler started with the man himself performing his works whenever and wherever he had the chance. Like Christ, Mahler was followed by true believers who had known him and who proselytized for him among the unbelievers with the fervor of musical Pentecostals. The true believers were followed by those who had never known the man himself but whose belief was therefore all the more passionate and subjective. And thus it was that the faith spread from Mahler to Walter, Klemperer, and Mengelberg; and then on to Mitropoulos, Bernstein, Kubelik, Solti, and Haitink; then on to Abbado, Bertini, Boulez, de Waart, Inbal, Maazel, and Rattle, spreading from the true believers to the passionate believers of the true believers to those who still keep the belief but whose faith is more reason than emotion, more intellect than spirit, more nuance than rapture.
In this Hanssler Mahler cycle, Michael Gielen leads the SWF Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden and Freiburg in rational, reserved, and respectable performances, performances that mute Mahler's agony and mask his ecstasy, performances that believe in the sublimity of Mahler, but with more head and mind than with heart and soul. The SWR Sinfonie plays more than capably if somewhat less than virtuosically and Hanssler's sound is open and full. But while Gielen is certainly a fine fourth-generation Mahler conductor, his restraint, his inability, or his unwillingness to surrender himself to the awesome, the immense, the infinite, and the eternal of Mahler's music prohibits him from leading truly compelling and passionately convincing performances. For truly compelling and passionately convincing fourth-generation Mahler, try Claudio Abbado. He'll beatify you, exorcise you, and sanctify you, but he'll never, ever lie to you.