Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in Mahler’s First

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COMPOSERS: Mahler
LABELS: BR Klassik
ALBUM TITLE: Mahler
WORKS: Symphony No. 1
PERFORMER: Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Yannick Nézet-Séguin
CATALOGUE NO: BR Klassik 900143

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There are only two conductors and orchestras in the world today from whom we actually need recorded Mahler cycles. Andris Nelsons with the Boston Symphony Orchestra is one; and I hope this First Symphony is the start of another, from the already great Canadian and the Bavarian superband. For a 30-second confirmation that the sound and the spirit are right, go straight to the opening of the second movement, with cellos and basses of handsome resonance in the well-captured spaces of the Herkulessaal, incisive woodwind and a joyous approach to rustic dance music. The lower lines make the approach to the final great blaze and its aftermath resound like never before, and if you can gauge the final triumphal music correctly – it sounds a bit 19th century-imperial for our tastes today – then you can pull off anything.

And Yannick Nézet-Séguin does, with his unique brand of rubato lifting the wayfarer’s song in the first movement just enough to give it grace, while the scherzo’s trio has more of the delicious Bavarian glissando but never edges towards Bernstein-style excess. The funeral-march round spotlights each of the lugubrious entries to perfection, and the klezmer style is lightly etched by the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra trumpets. All the right dynamics matched to the (far more difficult) right atmospheres are here; in short, this is the most perfect Mahler First Symphony since Rafael Kubelík’s recording with the same orchestra 49 years ago.

David Nice

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