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Mahler: Symphonie No 1 / Bernstein, Royal Concertgebouw

Release Date: 10/25/1990 
Label:  Deutsche Grammophon   Catalog #: 427303   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Gustav Mahler
Conductor:  Leonard Bernstein
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 57 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

This is the performance I have been waiting for. Twenty years separate it from Bemstein's earlier account with the NYPO (CBS, now mid-price)— and if you feel as I do, you'll view it as a 20-year rehearsal period to bring the reading to full maturity. Bernstein's basic view of the piece has undergone very little change in the interim. Fundamentals such as tempos remain more or less consistent (I still don't see eye to eye with him over the opening of the third movement—more on that anon), though certain phrases have naturally filled out and the expression is appreciably freer and easier now. In a sense, the piece sounds newer, and that's quite an achievement after 20 years. How acutely Bernstein still hears Mahler's early-morning silence. Read more The rising sixth for two oboes in bar 15 is like a deep intake of breath from this rapt observer; the richly harmonized horns some bars later are truly espressivo, their dreamy reverie broken only by the sudden if pizzicatos (like a startled animal) which Bernstein points up so vividly a bar later. I love, too, the way in which the chiming harp really tells as we move into the uneasy middle section (pity about the thump in the orchestra at this point): the chilling entry of tuba and bass drum at fig. 13 casts an appropriately long and ominous shadow across the proceedings. All this is most beautifully and subtly chronicled by the Concertgebouw players. How warmly and generously their strings phrase the wayfarer's music: it takes a great Mahler orchestra and a great Mahler conductor to imply so much suppleness and freedom within the bar without actually labouring the rubato. Their exhilaration in the coda (the euphoric explosion of brass fanfares is hair-raising) is second to none, and again it is the way in which the phrasing spontaneously sings that proves so uplifting.

Happily Bernstein hasn't re-thought his heavy, ungainly tempo for the scherzo. The trenchant accenting is what makes for the rhythmic vigour here: just listen to the second violins, violas and cellos at fig. 7 (1'59") with basses stomping heavily on the downbeat. Needless to say, Bernstein gilds the proverbial lily somewhat in the trio: 'Viennese' isn't the word, and he obviously believes (and why not?) that Mahler simply felt it unnecessary to mark in all the portamento—the opening violin phrases being one case in point. As I hinted earlier, I briefly part company with Bernstein over his quickish pacing of the Huntsman's funeral procession. Parody it may be, but Mahler does specify "grave" and "ceremonious" and these are not words that would readily spring to mind were I making my first acquaintance with the piece. Admittedly Bernstein is able to convey a convincing air of naivety at this tempo and his doublebass soloist has no chance of producing too beautiful a sound, as some players and conductors are wont to do. The seedy, cadaverous complexion of the solo is caught to perfection. As indeed are the tawdry colours of the gipsy-cumcafé music in all its corny schmalz. I particularly like the brassy, slightly flattened trumpet sound.

But I reserve my greatest enthusiasm for the finale; I've never heard an account like it. Masterly control and abandon (such as could only happen in a live performance) go hand in hand: the ferocious onslaught of the opening pages, the touch of rhetoric in the brass declamations of bars 6 and 19, the intense energy in the strings at fig. 11 (2'40"). And then, in repose, the lovingly attended second subject where Bernstein's light and shade in phrasing and dynamics is uniquely affecting. In the spare, expectant bars that follow, the tonal pallor he conveys is extraordinary, the sudden crescendo (in tremolando strings) from p to fff (so often something of a damp squib) absolutely electrifying. And so on to the tumultuous conclusion. I'm going to turn a deaf ear to the added timpani and bass drum on the final crotchet. This is a great performance of Mahler's first brave symphonic essay, impressively caught on the wing by DG's production team. I'd say it was an almost impossible act to follow.

-- Gramophone [3/1989]
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 1 in D major "Titan" by Gustav Mahler
Conductor:  Leonard Bernstein
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1888/1896 
Date of Recording: 10/1987 
Venue:  Live  Amsterdam Concertgebouw 
Length: 57 Minutes 0 Secs. 
Notes: Composition written: Leipzig, Germany (1888).
Composition revised: Germany (1896). 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  2 Customer Reviews )
 Outstanding Performance of Mahler's First March 14, 2015 By owen  ryan (lakewood, CA) See All My Reviews "On Sept. 29, 2014 I reviewed this recording issued with the Fifth on DG's budget Panorama series so I'll try not to be redundant. Penguin Guide finds this to be ''a vital performance with some splendidly alert and beautiful playing.'' Simon Thompson (Musicweb-int) notes that Bernstein was Mahler's best known and most significant but controversial interpreter. Tony Duggan's ''Synoptic Survey'' (Musicweb-int) gives a very critical review of Mahler recordings but concludes that of Bernstein's Mahler Firsts this was ''his final one and I believe his best. With a little reservation, a fine recording with a great Mahler orchestra, sumptuously recorded.'' Digging down into my box of cliches I would describe this as an unequaled, dynamic, sensational and (add your own superlative) performance with the electrically charged atmosphere of a live Bernstein performance. If you adore, or wish to explore, Mahler then you owe it to yourself to go for this recording." Report Abuse
 Supremely Beautiful Performance! November 1, 2014 By Henry S. (Springfield, VA) See All My Reviews "Leonard Bernstein was noted for his Mahler recordings, and if this disk doesn't convince you of his Mahler credentials, nothing is likely to do so. What a sensational, impassioned, riveting listening experience this is! The Concertgebouw Orchestra absolutely upholds it legendary reputation as one of the world's premiere Mahler orchestras, and the addition of Bernstein on the podium results in a match made in heaven. Rarely has Mahler's 1st Symphony sounded so sublimely expressive. Yes, there are literally dozens of good Mahler 1st's out there... but if you can find one that outshines the Bernstein/Concertgebouw collaboration, please let me know. In my opinion, this recording deserves more than 5 stars, and I give it the highest recommendation. Go get this one now and add it to your collection, by all means!" Report Abuse
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