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Silverline Classics

Gustav Mahler (1860 - 1911)
Symphony #1 "Titan" (1896) [48.57]
Utah Symphony Orchestra/Maurice Abravanel
Recorded in the Mormon Tabernacle, Salt Lake City, UT, USA, 1 June 1974.
Notes in English: track list, technical staff credits.
On disk extras: technical documentary; tribute to Maurice Abravanel, composer biography; "remembering the Utah Symphony Orchestra;" speaker set-up utility.
DVD-Audio 2.0; 5.1. DVD 2.0 and 5.1 AC-3 Dolby Surround ADD
DVD-Audio playable on all DVD players.

Comparison Recordings of Mahler Symphony #1:
Abravanel, USO. [ADD] Vanguard CD OVC 4003
Rafael Kubelik, Bavarian Radio SO. [ADD] DGG 449735-2
Dmitri Mitropoulos, Minneapolis SO [ADD mono 1940] Sony MHK 62342

When Maurice Abravanelís recording of the Mahler 8th Symphony was released most of us were surprised. We sort of expected the credits to list the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, but, no, it was the University of Utah Choirs instead. No matter, they did a terrific job with the work, and we privately figured there was a lot of personnel overlap; just how many good choral singers could there be in Salt Lake City? But then when a complete Mahler cycle with Abravanel was announced, most of us scoffed. At the time the press was busy discussing Mahler by Bernstein,* Walter, or Kubelik and everything else was dismissed unfairly.

Abravanel suffered from the same over-familiarity as Eugene Ormandy. Since he conducted "everything," the automatic assumption was that everything would be equally mediocre, and critics as usual tended to hear what they expected.

But now we realise that both Ormandy and Abravanel (excuse me, M. de Abravanel) did everything well. They were conservative conductors in that they were not flamboyant or showy, but they were nonetheless skilled craftsmen, and their recordings are still attracting interest when some of their more sensational contemporaries are no longer heard of. And this Mahler First is conservative. It expresses well the charming orchestral argument at the finale of the first movement, but eschews the ironic and bitter, almost satirical, frenzy, found in the last movement, which is best expressed in the ancient but still venerable Mitropoulos performance from 1941. Even Kubelik and Adrian Boult get more sarcasm in the funeral march slow movement than Abravanel, who works for dignity, balance, beauty of sound and phrase.

In terms of sound quality this Abravanel recording now moves to the very top of the list as a DVD-Audio. Effort was made to find the actual original session tapes in the tape vault from which to digitise the sound. The orchestral detail is superb, the powerful climaxes every bit as overwhelming as they should be. The extras on the disk are apt and truly interesting; we get photos and press reviews of Abravanel, a biography of Mahler, and a speaker set-up utility. We do not get the blumine movement, however, which I think is a shame, but Iíve got a couple of performances of it I can insert in performances, such as this one, which omit itóthanks to CD player programmability.

I believe that this was originally a two (or maybe three) channel stereo recording and that the surround sound is derived in the laboratory, but it is better done than usual and you may prefer it, or you may prefer to play back the two channel tracks through your surround sound decoder. We are promised the rest of the Mahler Symphonies by Abravanel and I know some of them were originally 4 channel masters, notably the Third, and Sixth.

*I find Bernsteinís Mahler uniformly intolerable. In his hands Mahlerís anguish becomes bombastic, melodramatic and cheaply theatrical.

Paul Shoemaker

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