Mahler : Symphony No. 1

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Gustav Mahler
ALBUM TITLE: Mahler : Symphony No. 1
WORKS: Symphony No. 1
PERFORMER: London Philharmonic Orchestra/Vladimir Jurowski

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Everything about the dewy dawn of this Mahler One is perfect: gurgling clarinets, well articulated and perfectly placed distant trumpet fanfares, spirited false cuckoo-calls (Mahler using the Symphony’s all-powerful interval of a fourth instead of that usurping bird’s usual third). But as the hero – signified by allusions to Mahler’s first song-cycle Songs of a Wayfarer – steps into the sunshine, the effect of the airless, in-your-face strings is rather oppressive. Blame the recording: the previous team got it right in an earlier, live Festival Hall production, and I was surprised to see expert Mike Hatch down as the engineer.

Still, you adjust, and the pleasures are many. This is not the first recording to include the ‘Blumine’ movement Mahler quickly removed from his first symphonic canvas, but I believe it’s the first to place it in context. Beautiful in itself, with cool uncredited trumpeter – I’m guessing the LPO’s Paul Beniston – and harp briefly aping mandolin, the dreamy interlude is followed by the rollicking scherzo, breaking out of it rather like the finale’s ‘cry of a wounded heart’ does from the funeral rites of the slow(ish) movement. Unfortunately in that slow movement Vladimir Jurowski, following an apparent score-printing error, substitutes one double-bass with the whole section and there’s nothing of Bernstein’s audacity in making it all sound rough and sourly tuned. Yet the point and spirit of the finale are dazzling, the tempo changes masterly throughout. I can’t wait to hear the same team’s very individual Mahler Five again, but may the sound keep its distance.

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David Nice