Mahler: Symphony No. 1 (Titan); Blumine

COMPOSERS: Mahler
LABELS: RCA
ALBUM TITLE: Mahler
WORKS: Symphony No. 1 (Titan); Blumine
PERFORMER: Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich/David Zinman
CATALOGUE NO: 82876 87156 2
After the Zurich/David Zinman partnership’s first-rate Strauss, Mahler would seem like a natural next step. Theirs is a sane, humane account of the First Symphony’s ‘days of youth’, unfolding the morning stroll of the first movement and the springtime rounds of the scherzo so blithely and effortlessly that the deadpan double-bass initiating the funereal canon of the slow movement comes as something of a shock. Everything is beautifully placed in the Symphony’s introduction – veiled string harmonics, distant trumpets, pristine woodwind and silky bass-lines – and given extra momentum when the horns’ merry song appears in the development. Soft dynamics throughout are sensitively handled, especially in the slow movement’s central limetree idyll, while at the other end of the scale brass and percussion register with exemplary clarity and brightness in the finale, launched by a terrifyingly vivid cymbal crash at the start of track 4. Surround sound only enhances the excellent acoustics of Zurich’s Tonhalle.

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It’s true that the Zurich strings are not the world’s most lustrous, but leanness often works in their favour when Zinman makes sure their articulation is as well-etched and varied as possible. Only the last inch of vivid character prevents this likeable interpretation from joining the league of Kubelík and Bernstein. The bonus may not be as substantial as the Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen – an indispensable companion from Kubelík and Benjamin Zander’s recent Teldec issue – but it’s good to have the ‘Blumine’ movement, originally placed second, as a straightforward, unsentimental encore, its trumpet solo voiced to cool perfection. David Nice