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30.9.13

Gustav Mahler – Symphony No.1 (Part 2)

This continues "Gustav Mahler — Symphony No.1 (Part 1)"



available at Amazon Symphony No.1,
Walter / Columbia SO
Sony

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available at Amazon Symphony No.1 (+ Adagio, Sy.10),
Bernstein / NYP
Sony

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Bruno Walter, the conductor most closely associated with Mahler, recorded his mentor’s work gladly and often. He stood on the rostrum for the (posthumous) Mahler premieres of the Lied von der Erde (1911, Munich Philharmonic) and the Ninth Symphony (1912, Vienna Philharmonic). In his recordings for Columbia/Sony half a century later he is still strongly advocating the causa Mahler. His First (in good sound, his second official recording and the last of at least seven, at this point) stands out, along with his Ninth that he recorded during the same sessions in January and February of that year. By way of contrast, Walter is a fine example of how the late romantic repertoire (Bruckner, Mahler, Wagner) has continuously been slowed down over the last decades, even as historical performance practice groups have sped up everything from Bach to Beethoven. But slowness rarely equals gravitas and Walter keeps things moving before they end up a cliché. That doesn’t mean he’ll hold back: In the opening of the finale he throws everything at his disposal at the listener—and with more energy than Solti has ever mustered. Just why Walter’s timpanist is pitched a semi-tone higher than is the norm I don’t know—but it becomes rather obvious during the “Frère Jacques” round where his bassist plays—just perfectly—in that panicky, dread-struck way. Upon re-listening, I find Leonard Bernstein’s New York recording (Sony) not too dissimilar; riveting and zippy.

available at Amazon Symphony No.1 + B.,
Judd / Florida Ph
Harmonia Mundi
Musique D'Abord

[mp3])
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There are things to be said about James Judd and the sadly defunct Florida Philharmonic. In what must be the most unlikely combination—a lesser known (if excellent) conductor from New Zealand leading a distinctively third-rate orchestra, from Florida of all places, into the sound world of Mahler—one is re-taught not to judge a book by its cover. Not this book, at any rate, and its exceedingly ugly budget-label cover. The playing is first class, Mahler’s idiom well approximated and, apart from the attractive budget price of the Harmonia Mundi Musique D'Abord line of recordings (previously on "Classical Express"), the disc includes the Blumine movement that Mahler originally included in this symphony but later threw out. There are others that include this movement—Ozawa I (Philips, oop), Rattle (EMI), Muti (EMI), Ormandy (Sony), Halasz (Naxos)—but none of them suggest themselves as superior.

available at Amazon Symphony No.1 + B.,
Zinman / Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich
RCA

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The most recent addition to the “M1+Blumine” recordings is David Zinman’s opening salvo in the Mahler-cycle contest on RCA (). After Michael Tilson Thomas (SFS Media), Zinman’s was the second integral cycle available on SACD (ahead of Gergiev, LSO Live and Stenz, Oehms), a technology that never quite entered the mainstream music market but has found a strong and enthusiastic niche among classical music lovers. (Especially among Mahler-lovers, it seems, which is why I try to indicate SACD-availability of a recording with the little SACD logo and indicate for each symphony my top-choice on SACD.) It is good to see that some companies—notably Harmonia Mundi, cpo, Chandos and RCA—stick to releasing convenient SACD-hybrids that play like a regular (“Red Book”) CD in any normal player but offer their sonic advantages (usually including surround sound) when played on an SACD compatible machine.

Zinman has flexibility and idiom, a generally warm and round approach, less militaristic. He’s generally rather ‘soft’ and awfully gentle in the third movement, his timpani muted. (No sense of dread among the basses, either... his first bass playing with way to much ease and skill to ever be pushed to his limits.) He’s stately bordering tame in the finale, but helped by the excellent depth of the burnished, dark RCA sound that gives even this less abrasive and ‘never in your face’ approach (just) enough heft.


available at Amazon Symphony No.1,
Kondrashin / NDR SO
EMI

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Kyrill Kondrashin with the NDR Symphony orchestra looks attractive at mid-price on an EMI import. It is his last recording—he died the very night he conducted this performance. I’d like to extol the virtues of a particularly riveting Russian Mahler, but the interpretation is not so different that it would merit sitting through what are too many individual flaws in the playing. Repeat listening would be no joy here. ">His 1969 Melodiya recording (oop) with the Moscow PO—coherent, marvelously untroubled—is certainly and much preferable.

available at Amazon Der Titan,
A.Hermus / Phil.O.Hagen
Acousence

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The obscure audiophile Acousence label has released a live recording of Mahler’s First Symphony that might not be notable for the playing of the Philharmonic Orchestra Hagen led by Antony Hermus (although they do their job beautifully), but because it is a performance of the 1893 Hamburg version of the work (“Titan—A tone poem in symphonic form” split in two parts: “From the Days of Youth” and “Commedia humana”). Apart from extant programmatic titles that means inclusion of “Blumine” as part of its natural, considerably different environment, rather than having the movement simply tacked on a performance of the otherwise revised version (as is the case with Judd, Zinman, Rattle, Ormandy, et al.). It’s also notable for its absolutely gorgeous recorded sound: Politely distant, elastic, very vivid yet refined and atmospheric. More of a dark horse recording, still, than Judd’s. Too bad Acousence’s distribution is haphazard, at best, and the recording out of print as of writing [September 2013].

available at Amazon Symphony No.1,
Suitner/ Stakap.Dresden
Berlin Classics

UK | DE | FR
available at Amazon Symphony No.1,
Jansons / RCO
RCO Live

SACDLogo_Klein2
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available at Amazon Symphony No.1,
MTT / SFS
SFS Media

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available at Amazon Symphony No.1,
Gergiev / LSO
LSO Live

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Otmar Suitner’s 1963 LP for the East German VEB Schallplatten (People’s-Owned Company – Records) with the Staatskapelle Dresden is the only truly exciting “First” that I have recently discovered for myself (save Haitink/CSO). Superb, rich mono sound, compelling conducting, wild climaxes, musicality and frenzy in perfect balance! Little wonder Berlin Classics has re-issued this on their “Eterna Collection”—both as a heavy vinyl LP and a beautifully produced CD with the original cover and liner notes. It further helps this release that it is coupled with an equally—or even more—gorgeous rendition of the “Songs of a Wayfarer”. The (East-) Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra under Kurt Sanderling and booming roundness of Herrmann Prey were recorded in 1961 and it’d all be a perfect match were it not for the considerable distortion. All the same a true joy to listen to.

Mariss Jansons has been recorded in Mahler’s First three times. Live with the Oslo Philharmonic in 1999, in concert with the Concertgebouw in 2006, and again in 2007 with his Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra—also live. (The latter isn’t commercially available, so not as to compete with the RCO recording, even as Bavarian Radio has—finally—launched its own record label.) The description of Jansons’ Mahler will occur more often throughout this overview: “Impeccable and well mannered”. Far too good to be outright boring. But never quite exciting, either, which is deadly in Mahler.

Much more involving versions can be had by Michael Tilson Thomas (SFS Media ) and, brand new, Bernard Haitink (the above mentioned CSO Resound issue). Although no speed-demon himself, MTT is a little quicker, a little tighter of the two. Both, in any case, nail the symphony; the best version on SACD need only be sought among those two and I’d hate to choose.

The First (and the Sixth) Symphony would seem most suited to a gruff, unkempt, and wild-eyed style that one could well imagine Valery Gergiev (LSO Live ) to bring to his Mahler. The First isn’t an outright disappointment, but ultimately the impression is flabby-flimsy rather than bristling with personality and the sound lacks presence.


The font used in the title is “Arnold Boecklin Regular”


Mahler 1 Choices


1. Rafael Kubelik, BRSO, Audite

2. Rafael Kubelik, BRSO, DG

3. Pierre Boulez, CSO, DG

4. Otmar Suitner, Staatskapelle Dresden, Berlin Classics

5. Bernard Haitink, CSO, CSO Resound

5. Michael Tilson Thomas, SFS, SFSMedia

Mahler 1 SACD Choice

Bernard Haitink, CSO, CSO Resound

Appropriate Oddity Prize Winner: Bernstein, RCO, DG

Find a list of the Mahler Posts (formerly) on WETA here: http://ionarts.blogspot.com/2009/12/mahler-survey.html

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