Based on Alsop’s 2008 concert performances this recording
of Mahler’s First is a welcome new addition to the discography.
Her engaging interpretation immediately captures the style of
the work through both tempo and timbre. Throughout she achieves
a satisfying sense of voicing and this well conveys the scoring.
It resonates pleasingly in the good acoustics of Joseph Meyerhoff
Symphony Hall. The balances fit aptly into the overall concept
of the piece, and the engineering renders the sonorities effectively.
The interpretation gives appropriate weight to the outer movements.
There’s a fine presentation of the atmospheric sounds
in Mahler’s introduction and a seamless move to the first
theme. Details, like the staggered rhythms of the woodwinds
are not only structural and are supported by the sound that
brings out these elements. At the same time, Alsop is faithful
to the dynamic levels of the score and this is complemented
by the intensity she gives to the passages that contain sustained
sonorities. This gives the first movement a sense of momentum,
which leads well to its climax. Along the way, Alsop clearly
articulates the sections of the development section which is
distinctive from the recapitulation. The coda caps the work
As much as Mahler is notorious for his highly annotated scores,
the Scherzo of the First Symphony is devoid of performance indications
for long stretches. Here Alsop shapes the work with nuanced
tempos that render the phrases appropriately. The accompanimental
figures support the thematic content with careful attention
to articulation. The sense of a Ländler, however stylized,
is clearly part of Alsop’s success in this movement.
With the third movement, the funeral march, Alsop is equally
effective. The movement opens with the individual sounds of
the timpani and contrabasses. These are soon joined by other
bass instruments, to create that sense of irony that has full
effect in the composer’s programmatic Todtenfeier for
the huntsman. Yet the middle section of the movement, the instrumental
paraphrase of the third song of the cycle Lieder eines fahrenden
Gesellen (“Die zwei blauen Augen”) stands out
for its cantabile style and rich orchestral sound. Subtleties,
like the demure horn entrances and the clarinet figuration,
add to the effect. With the Klezmer-like sections, the passages
Mahler intended to evoke the music of Bohemian musicians, Folk-like
inflections are present without becoming a caricature, and the
result is a cohesive interpretation. In this movement the sound
levels seem relatively high, so that the sometimes quiet, chamber-music
sonorities are as audible as some of the more overt passages
of the Scherzo. This serves the recording well, even though
the sound would be different in a live broadcast.
In the Finale Alsop shows her mastery with a most convincing
interpretation. A sense of dynamic and rhythmic tension underscores
this performance, with the individual sections that comprise
the structure of the work clearly articulated. Alsop is good
to present the opening sections as a series of ideas. In the
latter part of the piece she achieves a remarkable climax through
her sense of drive and direction. Just as Alsop is faithful
to the score, she expresses her own interpretation in the details
she brings out in this recording.
Fresh and vibrant, this recording of Mahler’s First Symphony
is appealing as a persuasive reading of this familiar work.
The audio quality of this recording merits attention for the
way it conveys the sound warmly. As much as the release is based
on live performances, audience noise and hall sounds are minimal
and mainly inaudible. However the intensity of the performance
of the Finale deserves the applause the audience would naturally
have offered at the conclusion. This recording has much to commend
it to Mahlerians everywhere.
James L Zychowicz
Masterwork index: Mahler
Langsam, schleppend [16:21]
Kräftig, bewegt, doch nicht zu schnell-Sehr einfach und
schlicht wie eine Volksweise [8:41]
Feierlich und gemessen, ohne zu schleppen [11:10]
Stürmich bewegt [18:42]