This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.
MAHLER Symphony No. 1, “Titan” • Jonathan Nott, cond; Bamberg S • TUDOR 7147 (Hybrid multichannel SACD: 55:25)
MAHLER Symphony No. 4 • Jonathan Nott, cond;Read more Mojca Erdmann (sop); Bamberg S • TUDOR 7151 (Hybrid multichannel SACD: 55:29)
I waxed enthusiastic about Nott’s performance of the Mahler Fifth in 28:6, noting that it was always a joy to find outstanding recordings from unanticipated sources. Here, then, are two more discs from the same forces, perhaps heralding yet another Mahler series: according to the orchestra’s Web site, Mahler Third performances are scheduled during the 2009–10 season.
The first movement of the First Symphony features very distanced fanfares against the foreground of brightly hued winds, strings, and warm brass. Nott’s tempo is closer to Haitink’s moderate one rather than Zander’s impetuosity. The sound (in two-channel SACD, at any rate) projects a crisp immediacy without much resonance or sense of the hall; the 2006 recording was made in the orchestra’s Joseph-Keilberth-Saal, which is currently undergoing renovation. Nott places his violins in opposition, which is always a boon in this symphony, and the inner voices are projected with admirable clarity. The movement reaches a splendid climax after a development notable for little tempo variation; this leads to a dynamic recapitulation and coda. The second movement is quite dance-like with its determined cellos and basses. Precision is admirable, with no sense of drag. By contrast, the Trio is very relaxed and rich with rubato. The third movement opens with a very mournful bass solo, and proceeds to exploit all of its diverse sources, from naive child’s song to jaunty marching band and lugubrious processional; the “Wayfarer” quote is quietly poignant by contrast. The finale hurtles in with a splendid “scream” and thunderous timpani roll; this is especially arresting after the dissolution of the funeral march. Nott paces the remainder of the movement admirably, with its false climax and mounting tension culminating in a truly triumphant coda.
Nott sets an easy-going tempo to open the Fourth Symphony, not too deliberate but gaining in urgency as the exposition gives way to the development, with its kleiner Appell presaging the Fifth Symphony. The recapitulation is warmly enthusiastic and good-natured, ending with a crisp coda. Clarity of sound and orchestral precision combine to produce a second movement replete with the full complement of Mahlerian sarcasm and humor. The gentler Trio, at first uneasy, settles into a warmly avuncular role. The slow movement features a smoothly flowing tempo that doesn’t hesitate, with a strong pulse from the low strings. The pace becomes more irregular as the emotional content is ratcheted higher in the mid-movement transitions between major- and minor-mode music. The sound, heretofore on an intimate scale, broadens out very effectively, reaching its zenith at heaven’s gates; that episode is efficiently cathartic, subsiding into a serenely powerful silence. Accompanied at a somewhat leisurely tempo, Mojca Erdmann’s song is secure in pitch and varied in character, befitting the different heavenly personages. The “Saint Cecilia” section provides a suitably rapt coda.
Nott’s performances are sensibly paced, expertly played, and vividly recorded. The only thing that prevents their ascendance to the top of my recommended list is that special personal touch that characterizes the very finest performances, and which is very much a matter of taste. Many listeners will find these recordings and their predecessor to be exemplary, and I won’t argue. The highest recommendation I can make for the First Symphony on SACD is Haitink’s new disc from Chicago; other fine alternatives are Zander, Tilson Thomas, and Jansons. For the Fourth, Ivan Fischer’s new performance on Channel Classics (reviewed elsewhere) takes risks and projects a more individual vision. Nott can reside comfortably alongside Zinman as a dependable alternative to the above-mentioned recommendations.