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I’ll never forget a 1970 LP with the words “Mahler Is Heavy” scrawled across its psychedelic cover and enough soundbites from the Abravanel cycle to sell old Gustav as the ultimate head trip. Nowadays, with Mahler as ubiquitous on CD as Beethoven, it’s high time to reassess this pioneer of the composer’s current renaissance. Abravanel and his Utah Symphony were pitched as the budget alternative to the starrier Bernstein recordings, but if the gang in Salt Lake City offered fewer catharses per square inch than their N.Y.C. counterparts, these are hardly bland readings. As revealed in Vanguard’s refurbished CDs, Abravanel was an affectionate, thoroughly idiomatic Mahlerian, coiling and releasing tension masterfully over the long span of these works. The virtuosity of this regional orchestra in music that was hardly familiar at the time is staggering. What really sets the Vanguard discs apart, though, is their sound. Glowing, immediate, and boasting a concert-hall ambience, this might be the most beautiful set of Mahler symphonies on the market. They’re certainly more seductive than the new Naxos recordings, whose digital engineering provides a less-than-ideal balance of musical components. But the Naxos series certainly has its attractions. The massive Symphony No. 8 alone awaiting release, this Polish Radio Symphony cycle divides the works between conductors Antoni Wit (Nos. 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6) and Michael Halasz (1, 7, and 9). A consistent interpretive profile is hard to identify here (even within a single conductor’s work), but an appropriate tone is found for each piece—a genial Fourth, a daringly expansive Fifth, a driven Sixth, etc. If the roistering horns and hints of klezmer in the First are disappointingly subdued, No. 7 makes up for it with an unrestrained interpretation that meets this psychic roller coaster head-on. Also available at the $75 asking price of Abravanel and Wit/Halasz are Solti’s take-no-prisoners accounts (in appropriately souped-up sonics), and the Haitink set, clear- headed and well-groomed enough to do any CPA’s heart good. But if you’ve got the bucks, go for Bernstein on Deutsche Grammophone. Now that is some heavy Mahler.