Mahler: Symphony No. 1

Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra/Riccardo Chailly (Accentus Music; DVD)

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Mahler Symphony No. 1 (DVD)
Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra/Riccardo Chailly
Accentus Music ACC 20335 62:24 mins

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There is nothing inappropriate or anticlimactic about this performance of the First Symphony coming towards the end of Riccardo Chailly’s probing Leipzig Mahler series on DVD. As the conductor points out in a model 25-minute examination of the work’s various points of interest, everything necessary to Mahler’s world is here. And to what a rigorous examination it is submitted – one that certainly doesn’t rob the work of seeming spontaneity. You can see the right emotions featured in Chailly’s face. His eyes are shut, Karajan-like, at the creation of the world, but soon flash open. The climaxes are carefully graded: the big explosion of joy at the heart of the first movement is capped by its equivalent in the Finale, leading to a ‘Triumphal’ as impactful as those by any of the greats. That Chailly can command a silence at the end before wild applause speaks volumes for his authority. And Chailly has studied all those greats, his words reveal, especially Willem Mengelberg and the instructions the Dutch conductor took down from Mahler in a crucial Concertgebouw rehearsal (it took Chailly a day to copy them in green ink into his own score) and Walter, whose ideal timings he believes he has emulated in this performance. There are even the extra seven bars of timpani writing towards the end of the scherzo, adopted from Mengelberg.

The orchestra’s commitment is palpable, and there’s some fine camerawork getting in deep, for example, to the harp strings and the score behind them. A model of its kind, and a fine continuation of the Mahler-on-DVD legacy after the inimitable Abbado performances from Lucerne. The presentation is consistent with previous released instalments: another crazy collage-like composition from Leipzig artist Neo Rauch and a very generous booklet note by Ann-Katrin Zimmermann. In other words, short of the score, your complete kit for Mahler One.

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David Nice