Mahler: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 9

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COMPOSERS: Mahler
LABELS: Simax
WORKS: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 9
PERFORMER: Oslo PO/Mariss Jansons
CATALOGUE NO: PSC 1270
Recording companies have left it relatively late to place Mariss Jansons among the ranks of the great Mahler interpreters, so there has to be a hint of regret that the honourable Oslo Philharmonic, to whom Jansons remained loyal for so long, is the orchestra with which he has to make his mark. It’s a fit, lean band, the strings initially so translucent for the First Symphony’s radiant dawn sprucely donning their country-dancing clogs and marching uniforms as Jansons moves the work keenly from innocence to experience (and there’s so much promise as the first-movement wayfarer springs with elegant agility into action).

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Yet as we jump to the other end of Mahler’s spiritual odyssey, the Ninth (complete on an 81-minute disc) poses certain demands which prove to be beyond this well-groomed ensemble – the dark writhings of the Leidenschaftlich (passionate) episode in the first movement, for instance. You’d have thought, too, that these players from Ibsen’s land of trolls, boygs and button-moulders would be responsive to Mahler’s gargoyle horrors; but the scherzo and rondo-burleske remain articulate and cleanly projected, but little more. There are several unforgettable sequences, it’s true: the third and most catastrophic of the opening Andante comodo’s falls from hectic grace, stunningly moulded by Jansons, and at the other end of the scale the twilight zones of the final Adagio, almost painfully slow and anaemic (I’d be interested to know the source of the intriguing F, rather than F sharp, in the second violins’ trill at 5:28 mins of track 4). Lucky Oslo audiences, to enjoy such quality; but it’s not quite enough to set these live performances in the hyper-vivid pantheon dominated by the likes of Kubelík and Bernstein. David Nice