A scrupulous continuation of Jonathan Nott’s noteworthy Mahler cycle
This is proving to be a searchlight among Mahler cycles—a conductor, Jonathan Nott, and an orchestra, the Bamberg Symphony, who throw up more revealing detail and say more about these symphonies than many of the established heavyweights. It isn’t the spectacle or power of Nott’s Mahler that singles him out (in that he must yield to the likes of Bernstein) but rather an intimate and highly idiomatic understanding of the style and sensibility of the music that sets him apart. No sooner has the great unison horn summons cleaved the wintry air at the start of this great pantheistic hymn than Nott spots theRead more marking molto ritenuto and instantly, crucially, intensifies the sense of time and space inherent in the slowly oscillating motif in low horns and bassoons.
Nott is scrupulous about such details but, far more important, he knows why they are there. Note the seismic glissandos and withered harmonies of the opening paragraph, then the gradual freshening and lightening of texture, with sharply etched woodwind voices in marked contrast to those doleful trombone orations. The climax of the movement brings an absolutely thrilling sprint to the finishing line, euphoric trumpets provoking the final adrenalin rush.
Mahler’s flora and fauna are by turns elegant, characterful and pithy; an evocative alpine-like halo of atmosphere surrounds the distant post horn solos. Personally, I prefer a darker contralto colour in the third movement’s Nietzsche setting but the plangent Mihoko Fujimura is wonderfully focused and aware. Nott, in common with many latter-day interpreters, subscribes to the view that the marking hinaufziehen (“drawn upwards”) should be taken literally in the cor anglais and oboe’s bird-like cries. I don’t agree. It’s a feeling, not an instruction—Mahler would surely otherwise have marked it as a slide—and its awkwardness becomes a distraction.
But how special is Nott’s account of the great adagio finale. It isn’t just the heightened luminosity of the sound but the sense of a big string section made extraordinarily intimate through the suppleness and sensitivity of the playing. That great moment of stasis where a transfigured flute descends over the proceedings like a benediction ushering in the trumpet-led brass chorale is, as it should be, totally transcendent. Bernstein, Chailly and now Nott surely lead the field.
-- Edward Seckerson, Gramophone Magazine Read less