Mahler: Symphonies Nos 1 & 2 (DVD)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Mahler
LABELS: C Major
WORKS: Symphonies Nos 1 & 2
PERFORMER: Camilla Tilling (soprano), Lilli Paasikivi (mezzo-soprano); Bavarian Radio Chorus; Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra/Paavo Järvi
CATALOGUE NO: DVD: 718008; Blu-ray: 718104

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Visually, these DVDs could be criticised – apart from a few vertiginous flying shots in the Resurrection Symphony – for their relatively conventional camera work; their tendency to home in on a handful of lead players in the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra while showing little of the rest. There is some suggestion of sonic spotlighting, too, to match the visual close-ups. But then the sound balancing of DVDs must be a perpetual compromise in this respect, and the spacious overall textures of these recordings are not unduly disturbed.

For much of the time, the cameras focus on conductor Paavo Järvi: a taller, more aquiline and urbane version of Dickens’s Mr Micawber, he conveys as many cues through his conspiratorial glances and rhythmic mouthings as through his supple baton play. In general, Järvi favours broad tempos – perhaps a little too broad in the opening movement of the Second Symphony, which lacks the febrile tension others have found in it. But the First Symphony, recorded in the Kurhaus Wiesbaden, Germany, is wholly successful in its balance of detail and flow, and the Second includes a lovely ‘Urlicht’ from the Finnish mezzo-soprano Lilli Paasikivi, while the off-stage players in the finale are heard through the open doors of the basilica of the Eberbach Monastery in which the performances took place – the episode of distant fanfares and birdsong just before the hushed first entry of the chorus proving especially magical.

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Bayan Northcott