Mahler: Symphonies Nos. 1-3

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LABELS: Signum
ALBUM TITLE: Mahler: Symphonies Nos. 1-3
WORKS: Symphonies Nos. 1-3
PERFORMER: Philharmonia Orchestra/Lorin Maazel


Mahler’s Symphonies have been recorded by so many conductors – including Lorin Maazel with the Vienna Philharmonic – that it is hard to imagine what new insights further versions might offer. This release of live recordings from Maazel’s 2011 Mahler cycle in the Royal Festival Hall finds the Philharmonia, and particularly the brass, in fine form and the recorded sound is bright and spacious, while Maazel sometimes uncovers details of part-writing and orchestration that usually go unnoticed even in these transparent scores. All the same, as one listens through,
doubts accumulate.

The most successful reading is Symphony No. 1, in which the mystery of the hushed opening, the gutsy resonance of the second movement and the frenzied launch
of the finale are comparable with some of the best versions. But already, in the initial statement of the vernal main theme of the first movement there is a slightly mannered slow-up before its resolution, and this kind of thing, together with a tendency to linger over lyrical episodes, more seriously impedes the on-going continuity of the sprawling opening movement of Symphony No. 2, though the rest of the work goes
well enough.

Most problematic is Symphony No. 3. The opening, with its primeval blasts of brass, is magnificently played and recorded, but Maazel’s tempo for the movement’s main march theme is staid, so that even at the rampaging climax of the development where the music tears itself to pieces, the effect goes off at half cock. The second and third movements are curiously prosaic and the finale is so full of upbeat hesitations and expressive pullings about that, instead of coming over as a slow, sometimes fraught, but inexorable rise to transcendence, it threatens to dissolve into an episodic rhapsody. Frustrating, to say the least.


Bayan Northcott