Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Symphony No.1 in D major
3 Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen*

Staatskapelle Dresden/Otmar Suitner
Hermann Prey (Baritone)*
Berliner Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchester/Kurt Sanderling*
Recordings made in 1963 and 1961*
BERLIN CLASSICS 0030372BC [65.20]

Many years ago Otmar Suitner's recording of Mahler's First Symphony was available on a bargain-priced Deutsche Grammophon LP. It made little impression even then when recordings of the work were far fewer, so I don't think it will make much now when superb recordings are available even at bargain price. His approach is soft-grained and lyrical and is assisted in this by a bass-biased recording that, in parts of the first movement, throws a kind of veil over what we hear. Underneath this is a rather sluggish development though things liven up a little at the outburst signalling the recapitulation. The second movement fares a little better though I do feel that more crunch is needed at nodal points of the dance. In the third movement I was pleased, and surprised, to hear a really weird sound from the double bass solo as it is surprising how many conductors fail to get the principals of even the best orchestras to sound anything other than model citizens, so a plus mark there. Generally what we hear afterwards is a dark, sombre funeral march that is engaging but little attempt is then made to bring out the grotesques that Mahler took so much trouble to include. The limited recording gets in the way again at the opening of the fourth movement too but this is still the best part of the performance. Suitner's stress on melody and lyricism allows him to bring feeling to the big theme of the movement and the strings of the Dresden Staatskapelle do not let him down. There are passages where some momentum is lost by dogged tempo choices, especially in the central "false" climax passage, but there is more to be enjoyed here than earlier and the end comes off quite well.

The coupling looks promising. In Hermann Prey you have a great stylist early in a very distinguished career and in Kurt Sanderling one of the great conductors of his generation. It is certainly true that they do not disappoint in Mahler's early music but the problem is there are four Wayfarer songs in the cycle and all we have here are three of them. For some unexplained reason the stormy "Ich hab ein gluhend Messer" is missing and since these songs are to be heard as a cycle this is like having a recording of one of the symphonies with a movement missing and that is unacceptable.

Only an adequate performance of the symphony coupled with an incomplete one of the song cycle.

Tony Duggan


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