so the Mahler bandwagon rolls on. David Zinman's cycle
for Sony-BMG has reached the halfway point and Valery Gergiev's
London series is slowly appearing on LSO Live. Add to that
Jonathan Nott's Bamberg cycle for Tudor and Sir Roger Norrington's
for Hänssler and it's clear Mahler has never been more
downside is that with so many fine recordings of Mahler's
First in the catalogue – Bruno Walter (Sony Classical),
Leonard Bernstein (DG), James Levine (RCA), Klaus Tennstedt
(EMI) and David Zinman (Sony-BMG) for instance – any newcomers
must be very special indeed. In the SACD stakes they are
also up against the excellent Sony-BMG team, whose recordings
for Zinman are among the best around.
how does Nott's performance stack up? Well, the British-born
maestro has certainly attracted much praise on the Continent,
his live 'Resurrection' in Baden-Baden earlier this year
(2008) being particularly well received. Zinman's recording
of the First
has its weaknesses, but in terms of overall conception,
orchestral playing and sound quality it remains a very
satisfying performance indeed.
with Zinman the sustained high-octave A at the start of
Nott's recording sounds less mysterious than usual, that
quotation much too portentous.
Nott is inclined to fuss over small details at the expense
of overall pulse and structure, which results in a fitful
reading and a fatal loss of momentum. And although timings
don't tell the whole story it's interesting to see that
Nott is marginally slower
than Bernstein (16:23)
and considerably slower than Zinman (15:32).
it’s not an auspicious start; sonically it’s a bit underwhelming,
too, with less amplitude than one might expect from an
SACD. On both layers the dryish acoustic is a world away
from the richly detailed, three-dimensional sound of the
Zinman disc. And while we’re in the debit column the Bambergers
aren't in the front rank either, with some very tentative
playing and poor intonation at times.
Scherzo, with its lilting Ländler,
seems a little
po-faced alongside Zinman's extrovert account. Nott misses
the music’s wit and sparkle, not to mention its parodic
charm, and the German band don't play with the precision
and point of their Swiss cousins. Unfortunately the stop-start
nature of this reading becomes more distracting as the
movement progresses. A pity, as Zinman and others bind
these disparate elements into a satisfyingly seamless whole,
finding plenty of colour and nuance along the way.
ghostly funeral march, with its ‘Frére Jacques’ tune,
must be one of the strangest things Mahler ever wrote.
Nott and the Bambergers capture little of this fantastical,
twilight world but, to be fair, Zinman isn’t at his best
in this music either. Yes, Nott conjures up some spectral
moments but there are some disappointing ones as well.
For instance the solo contrabass at the start sounds curiously
unfocused and poorly articulated, Nott’s overall tempo
much too deliberate to sustain either interest or momentum.
final movement is altogether more promising. At last the
conductor loosens the reins a little and allows the music
to break into a canter. And not a moment too soon, as this
is turning out to be a very dull outing indeed. There is
certainly more tension and thrust than before, but I longed
for a brisker pace – ohne bremse,
as it were. Alas,
it’s not to be, and despite some memorable touches – those
cuckoo calls that hark back to the opening movement are
beautifully played – the final bars have seldom sounded
as directionless as they do here, a mad dash to who knows
much as I wanted to admire this Mahler First I’m afraid
there are just too many lapses of judgment and ensemble
to warrant a recommendation. Our maestro has his sights
on the summit, but for now he's still in the foothills.