In every generation there are popular artists like Andrea Bocelli, Mario Lanza, Andre Rieu, etc, who delight audiences but are the despair of critics. In his lifetime Eugene Ormandy was scorned among serious music lovers but adored by the record-buying public. This 60s recording of the Mahler First, complete with the 'Blumine' movement later discarded by the composer, shows both sides of Ormandy's conducting.
The plus side is that the orchestra plays gorgeously. There's a sheen to the sound lacking in Bernstein's contemporary Mahler recordings with the NY Phil. Ormandy was originally a violin virtuoso, and he knew how to get the best from a string section. But where Bernstein would go to any length to uncover the heart of a work, Ormandy was content to glide over the surface. We aren't remotely in Mahler's emotional world here--there's no tension, suffering, struggle, or epiphany. One bar follows another with lovely execution while the spirit of the music dies.
Time can't change that, but today's new audiences may not care as much. I will say that I like Ormandy's quicker than usual way with Blumine, and the trumpet playing of the big tune floats effortlessly. Also, when I first heard the Mahler First at eighteen, I adored the Leinsdorf Dynagroove version on RCA that is even stiffer than this one.
The generous filler is Mahler's 'Songs of a Wayfarer' cycle with Frederica von Stade conducted by the rather neutral Andrew Davis. The text works more naturally for a male singer, but mezzos like Birgitte Fassbaender have given searing performances. Von Stade, who despite her last name is far more comfortable in French than in German, gives a medium-cool performance that misses Mahler's intensity and anguish by a mile. Gorgeous tone, though.