> Mahler Symphony 1 maazel SBK89783 [TD]: Classical CD Reviews- June2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Symphony No.1 in D major

Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Lorin Maazel
(Recorded in the Musikverin, Vienna in 1986)
SONY ESSENTIAL CLASSICS SBK89783 [57.54] Superbudget


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Lorin Maazelís complete Mahler cycle for CBS came out over a comparatively short period in the 1980s at the end of the LP era and promised a lot. It was the first time that the great Vienna Philharmonic had ever recorded a complete Mahler cycle. Lorin Maazelís credentials as an experienced Mahlerian were well known if not universally admired, and an experienced recording team led by producer David Motley was on hand. It should have been special. In the end it proved something of an expensive damp squib. Certainly the orchestral playing and sound recording was all top notch, but Maazel himself proved somewhat below par in many of the symphonies: heavily mannered and rather in love with himself as reflected in the mirror of the music. The big exception was the Fourth. There Maazel gave us one of the most satisfying recordings of this elusive work ever made and I hope Sony have plans to reissue that along with this First and also the Second and Ninth that I also have in front of me for review.

The familiar spacious acoustic of the Musikverein in Vienna is evident from the start with the atmospheric introduction to the first movement evoking the distant summer vistas splendidly. However once the familiar "Wayfarer" theme is under way Maazelís overriding stress on the lyrical and the romantic underpowers this most youthful of music with too much weight. Here is a wayfaring lad with too heavy a bag on his back, I think. He should have more spring, more gaiety. Maazel seems to take too long to unfold the movement and yet the clock timing is no longer than average. The drag in the undertow seems all in the delivery and the phrasing. Even the great outburst at the recapitulation takes on a bloated grandiloquence that is inappropriate. This is followed soon after by a coda that seems to try to make up for the leaden quality of much of what preceded it by pressing forward in a mad dash for the winning post. Itís a rush of blood that jars bizarrely. The second movement is also too heavy-footed to allow the real snap of the ländler rhythm to tell whilst the third movement is far too sophisticated, too concerned with smoothing out the extraordinary sharp edges of Mahlerís sound world and therefore the special character this music possesses. Maazel seems to want to make it respectable whereas in its day it nearly caused riots. Under the right interpreter with the right ideas we can still catch something of the impudence of the young Mahler even now, but not here. The last movement has its moments of grandeur and is certainly as well played and recorded as the rest. But in the end it cannot save a performance that I think misses its target largely because it doesnít seem to have been pointing to it in the first place. Maazelís agenda seems to be beauty and the warm glow of certainty above everything whereas Mahler, especially at this point in his career, is concerned with much more than that.

There are many great recordings of this work available from all periods that serve it better than this. Kubelik (DG 449 735-2GOR), Walter (Sony SM2K 64447 - a two disc set with Walter's classic recording of Mahler's Second), Bernstein (DG 431 036-2), Horenstein (Unicorn UKCD2012), Chailly (Decca 448 813-2), Haitink (Philips 420 936-2). All in their different ways superior in interpretation to Maazel and more than equal on playing and recording, though my own preferences lie with Kubelik, Horenstein and Walter.

A disappointing interpretation from Maazel although superbly played and richly recorded.

Tony Duggan

Visit Tony Duggans Mahler Pages


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