Although Mahler told Sibelius that a symphony must be “like the world... all-embracing,” this is not necessarily true of his First. While this work is monumental in scope for its time, the internal angst, heightened emotion, and sheer grandeur of Mahler’s later music remain largely absent. In my view, the composer did not begin to fully express his intense personal melancholy in symphonic form until he reached the Fifth. Read more />
His First Symphony is a vast pastoral landscape, autobiographical to a point but in an observational way, notably in the klezmer-inspired sections of the third movement. Even the turbulent opening of the final movement, which Mahler later described as “the sudden expression of the feelings of a deeply wounded heart,” comes over as more of a public than a private statement. The prevalent characteristic of this great orchestral work is its rusticity, depicted in the stamping Ländler of the second movement and the extended quotation of the Wayfarer theme as a central motif of the first. Here is a wide-eyed composer quite consciously setting out at the beginning of his symphonic journey.
The strongest performances of the First recognize and celebrate its innate earthiness. That is why the bright polish of Chailly’s Concertgebouw recording, the smoothness of Eschenbach’s, or the neatness of Zinman’s don’t quite hit the mark with the same force as the sometimes raw-toned Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra under Kubelík (a much admired older DG recording). The excellent Baltimore Symphony is anything but raw-toned, but under Marin Alsop’s well-paced direction they often find an apt rustic quality. Alsop was a protégée of Bernstein—one of the most successful—so it is probably his Columbia Mahler 1 we should be using for comparison. Like her mentor, she whips up the excitement at the conclusion of both the first and second movements, and sits back on the Ländler tempo in the latter to give the dance a peasant feel. However, she does not over-emphasize these choices in the way Bernstein could be accused of doing in his New York recording. His first movement ends almost in a frenzy, and throughout he is generally prone to greater exaggeration. By comparison, Alsop is measured, but rarely dull and never without character. She gives a firm sense of the symphony as a whole and not merely as a series of contrasting episodes.
The place where I feel Bernstein scores over other conductors—Kubelík does well here too—is in that klezmer segment of the third movement. The older conductors are not afraid to bring out an element of caricature (how else can one explain Mahler’s use of a solo double bass?) and both instinctively settle on a tempo that makes the listener (or this listener at least) want to get to his feet and dance. Alsop doesn’t quite achieve that, but she is sympathetic nonetheless. Her orchestra blooms in the symphony’s final peroration, which does not sound overblown in this performance because she has prepared the way securely.
Naxos’s recording quality is very good, and as a bargain version of the much-recorded work this is conceivably a best buy. It is also satisfying to see the Baltimore Symphony’s continuing presence on disc; they produced some wonderful recordings under Zinman when he was their chief conductor.
Symphony no 1 in D major "Titan"by Gustav Mahler
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic Written: 1888/1896 Date of Recording: 9/2008
Symphony No. 1 in D major, "Titan": I. Langsam, schleppend
Symphony No. 1 in D major, "Titan": II. Kraftig bewegt, doch nicht zu schnell
Symphony No. 1 in D major, "Titan": III. Feierlich und gemessen, ohne zu schleppen
Symphony No. 1 in D major, "Titan": IV. Sturmisch bewegt
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
Marin Alsop treading into deeper waters!January 28, 2013By L. Ragsdale (Minneapolis, MN)See All My Reviews"OK I am going to admit I have heard a number of performances (Most of them recorded) of Mahler's Symphony #1. To be perfectly honest, Ms. Alsop did an excellent job with her Baltimore Symphony but it just does not compare with the excellent performances; i.e.: Tilson Thomas, Bernstein, Solti. However, having said that, if one was just getting interested in Mahler this would be an excellent introduction. All the right notes are in the right places, the brass sections in the last movement are superb, and the strings and winds excel in the early movements."Report Abuse