Do you enjoy Mahler’s 8th symphony? I find it to be one of his most boring and least exciting or moving works after the initial shock at how many performers are involved.

The 8th is a barrage and a tour de force. And it has some amazing moments.

But… IMHO you’re on to something there. It is something of a step backwards for Mahler. It is not less competent, but it is less personal, and musically more conservative than what he did before or after. I love the relentless first movement, which is Mahler’s kind-of Mass, and is loud and energetic enough to match anything else he did in that vein. (Hostem Repellas!) The second movement, which is his kind-of Opera, relies on Goethe for its structure rather than internal logic, and I think it sags.

And some of his aesthetics in this piece has not survived the test of time, where I think most have. The harmonium and the whole Ewig Weibliche thing is too much of the 19th century.

At what tempo do you feel the Mahler 5 Adagietto ought to be played?

Slower than the Mengelberg Andy Anderson linked to, faster than Bernstein’s dirge.

Mahler may have played it that fast, but geez, what does the author know about his own text?

As Curtis Lindsay said, it is meant to be a song, not the slow-mo ringing of the spheres. Embarrassingly in fact Mahler did make lyrics for it, as a love song to Yoko Ono… er, Alma Mahler.

In general though, and with the exception of this instance, Mahler’s own advice holds when it comes to conducting. When you sense the audience is getting restless—go slower. There’s a lot going on in Mahler: taking the time to let it play out is normally good advice.

It’s just that in the case of the Adagietto, there’s somewhat less going on. It doesn’t need that much time to play out.