Mahler Symphony No. 1
A dewy in-the-beginning augurs well for this Mahler Symphony No. 1 from the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Marin Alsop, with furtive clarinets and dreamy horns helping to settle down a restless audience in this live performance.
What follows is a disappointment; there’s more than a hint of mud both in the upfront string sound – brass and woodwind project what character they can from the middle distance – and in the interpretation. As a result, the wayfarer’s song responding to nature, the rustic dance of the Scherzo, and the parody funeral-march through the woods never quite spring off the printed page. Alsop is scrupulous with the quieter dynamics, though, drawing us in to the trio of the slow movement, for example (although it is a pity the movement begins with collective double basses rather than the ideal mournful solo).
There are structural uncertainties: the long, delayed climax of the first movement misfires, and why so grandiose with the finale’s stormy outbursts if you’re going to rush the concluding triumph? Alsop seems to have her priorities back to front here – especially alongside vivid competition this month from Iván Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra (reviewed on p77) who are idiosyncratic but convincing, and with a much more coherent vision.