Mahler/Berg

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Mahler/Berg
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Symphony No. 1; Piano Sonata (orch. Theo Verbey)
PERFORMER: Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Riccardo Chailly
CATALOGUE NO: 448 813-2
It has been in the nature of Chailly’s investigative spirit to include, with each of his Mahler interpretations, a companion-piece off the beaten track but very much either in the spirit of Mahler’s age or fostered by it. Mahler’s First Symphony and Berg’s Piano Sonata are two significant decades apart in musical history, poles apart in mood, but they work well together in this sequence. Selflessly realised by the young Dutch composer Theo Verbey with a perfect ear for the sound of early Berg-Webern orchestration (now I long to hear something of his own), the Sonata’s precocious world-weariness finds its perfect antidote in the pristine world-before-the-fall of Mahler’s first movement. And it has rarely sounded dewier or fresher, thanks to the happy meeting of Chailly’s dynamic fastidiousness, the Concertgebouw players’ easy beauty of tone and the luminous handling of the Amsterdam hall’s acoustics.

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Chailly reminds us that, for all its fully-fledged Mahlerian fingerprints, this is still a young man’s music. The last movement’s conflicts, underpinned by vivid percussion, are crisply energetic enough not to leave the outcome in doubt; the sneaking-back of the ‘wayfarer’ tune from the first movement is pure fun, the final victory assertive but never too brash. The only problem is where the huntsman’s funeral fits in: I’m not convinced that it’s more than a baffling and, by Chailly’s own high standards, relatively undercharacterised interlude. David Nice