Mahler: Symphony No. 1 in D; ‘Blumine’ movement

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COMPOSERS: Mahler
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Symphony No. 1 in D; ‘Blumine’ movement
PERFORMER: CBSO/Simon Rattle
CATALOGUE NO: CDC 7 54647 2 DDD
The inspiration for this symphony lay in Mahler’s deep and unrequited love for a young actress, a story that is so unhappily portrayed in the Songs of a Wayfarer. The two works share thematic material but occupy worlds far apart, a gulf that is reinforced by this doom-laden and uncompromising account. With the advantages of hindsight we are aware of the deep shadows cast by the later symphonies, and Rattle extracts more than a whiff of premonitory menace.

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The first movement is exemplary. The elaborate working out of the theme from the second song in the Wayfarer cycle is portrayed as an island of merriment in the bleak and foreboding tension that precedes the main climax of the movement. When this comes, it is of awe-inspiring magnitude and executed with devastating accuracy.

Rattle treads with a heavy foot in the A major Ländler which follows. His portrayal of country life as a relentless grind serves only to heighten the contrast with the delicate salon music – almost a waltz – that occupies the Trio. Here is one of the many examples where Rattle seems to be able to make this orchestra pirouette around his little finger.

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In the Andante, the solemn onward march of the canonical ‘Frère Jacques’ is relentless, and the tawdry little woodwind interjections are swept clean of humour to leave only menace. After this, the explosive screech as the last movement is released upon us is a palpable relief. A lingering, yearning episode elicits the most beautiful tone from the strings, but it is swept aside in the name of a triumphal conclusion in the making. Approaching the final bars, Rattle pulls back and surveys the field ahead, but despite having a clear run, steers a formal course, constraining the exuberance with strict tempi and a deafening precision that reinforces his ominous interpretation of the whole symphony. Christopher Lambton