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Decca Phase 4
Symphony No. 1 in D major, incl. ‘Blumine’ (1884-1888,
final revision 1899)
Orchestra Zurich/David Zinman
rec. 27-28 February 2006, Tonhalle, Zurich.
BMG-RCA 82876 871562 [61:43]
was my introduction to David Zinman’s Mahler cycle, which
has yielded fine readings of the first four symphonies. The Second (see
and Fourth (see
strike me as the most successful so far, the Third (see review)
let down by a disappointing final movement. No Mahler cycle
is ever an unqualified success – and this one is no exception – but
Zinman brings something fresh and invigorating to these much-played
recording includes the so-called ‘Blumine’ movement that
Mahler discarded for a Berlin performance in 1896. This ‘moonlight
serenade’ was omitted from the revised score printed in 1899
but several conductors have chosen to include it in their
recordings. Obviously CD technology allows listeners to programme ‘Blumine’ into
the symphony but really it’s nothing more than a curiosity.
In any event it bears little resemblance to the music around
it, so I imagine most listeners would give it a whirl at
least once and then revert to the usual four-movement version.
is Zinman’s just another Mahler First to add to the
120-plus in the catalogue or is it something special? A bit
of both, actually. The freshness I mentioned earlier is particularly
appropriate in the ‘Spring music’ of the first movement,
which Zinman details and shapes very well indeed. The woodwind ‘cuckoo
calls’ and distant clarinet fanfares are beautifully captured
in a natural acoustic; something of a trademark in this cycle.
might argue that this movement is not as atmospheric as some
but no one could dispute the sheer sensuousness of Zinman’s
reading, every detail pointed and every colour uncovered.
And when the timps and percussion come marching in they do
so with splendid weight and authority. This is glorious music-making,
even if it lacks that last degree of magic.
what it’s worth the ‘Blumine’ movement would follow at this
point, although it sits uncomfortably with the more sinewy
music on either side of it. It’s a sentimental, soft-grained
little piece whose inclusion only makes sense – musically
at least – in a performance of the early, unrevised score.
jaunty Ländler that opens the second movement is crisply
articulated and played ‘nicht zu schnell’ as Mahler demands.
The lower strings are warm and full-bodied, their pizzicatos
light enough to anchor this mobile music without impeding
its progress. And that is another characteristic of Zinman’s
Mahler: a close attention to orchestral balance that allows
so many details to shine through.
much for detail, what about structure? Zinman certainly has
a good grasp of the Mahlerian style and its long spans but
he does lose his footing once in a while. No problems with
the delicate tread of the ‘Frére Jacques’ tune, though, ushered
in on muted timps. There is a lovely glow to the orchestral
playing here, which is especially noticeable on the SACD
layer. Unfortunately that can’t quite disguise a certain
blandness here; it’s difficult to quantify but perhaps it’s
all a little too moulded, even self-conscious, to be entirely
final movement of this First is probably the one that
will divide listeners most. Oddly enough that’s also true
of Zinman’s Third and Fourth, albeit for very
different reasons. He brings off the choral finale of the Second with
great panache and keeps up the momentum to the very end,
so why can’t he do the same with the First?
be fair its manic chatter and general wildness are a challenge
to most conductors, who often achieve a degree of coherence
by pressing forward too much. Zinman isn’t tempted to do
that and throughout maintains his spacious view of the music.
The movement certainly starts arrestingly enough with that
percussion-capped outburst and at 3:30 that floating string
theme is meltingly beautiful. The horns have just the right
burnished quality, the pizzicato basses are as telling as
ever, and the ghostly return of the symphony’s opening motif
at 7:30 is magically done.
all these felicities – or perhaps because of them – Zinman’s
reading lacks that all-important sense of urgency and cohesion.
Make no mistake the final horn-dominated peroration is as
theatrical as it gets; it’s just that there isn’t that symphonic
logic, that sense of a natural culmination of all that’s
my reservations – and some listeners may find them very minor – this
is still worth hearing, if only for Zinman’s attention to
detail and the wonderful ‘hear through’ quality of the recording.
There are about a dozen alternatives that offer the ‘Blumine’ option
but I’d be tempted to ignore that and go for the final version.
There are many of those, but two relatively modern versions
are among the most compelling I’ve heard. They are Bernstein’s
Concertgebouw account on DG 427 3032 and James Levine’s LSO
one, available ‘on demand’ from ArkivMusic. If I had to choose
between them I’d go for the latter, simply because it ticks
all the right boxes and, despite its age, it still sounds
I remarked in my review of Zinman’s Third these missteps
aren’t serious enough to tarnish his Mahler credentials.
In particular his reading of the Fourth must be one
of the best available; that can only augur well for the rest
of this illuminating cycle.
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