Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911) Symphony No. 1Titan [55:50] Symphony No. 2Resurrection' [87:00]
Camilla Tilling (soprano), Lilli Paasikivi (mezzo)
Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks, NDR Chor,
Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra/Paavo Järvi
rec. live, Friedrich von Theirsch Saal, Wiesbaden, Germany: 23 August 2012 (No.1); Kloster Eberbach, Eltville im Rheingau, Germany: 26-27 June 2010 (No.2)
Bonus: Introductions to both symphonies by Paavo Järvi [20:00]
Subtitles for No.2 in German, English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Japanese: subtitles for bonus in English, German, Korean, Japanese
Video: 1080i 16:9
Sound: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and LPCM Stereo Reviewed in DTS-HD surround. C MAJOR Blu-ray 718104 [169:00]
In his interesting introduction to Mahler's First Symphony Järvi focuses particularly on the sounds Mahler requests. For example, the double-bass solo in the third movement must sound effortful, not beautiful. He notes how difficult it is to make a class orchestral player play with an amateur sound. He doesn't succeed. This player is quite superb with only self-conscious hints of an untrained folk musician. One of the characteristics of this performance throughout is the wonderfully characterised wind playing. Watching Järvi it is obvious this is something he cares about deeply. His expressive responses to his superb orchestra add to the pleasures of this performance. My characterisation of his approach is that he goes for extremes: slow music is slower than usual, fast music is faster. This tendency is very much present in the first movement of No.1 but less so in the Second. The third movement returns to extremes of tempo but strangely the very aspect that would have gained from this, the Klezmer-like music in the middle, is less inflected and less wild than that by Claudio Abbado in his Lucerne recording. The first flute puts in a superb performance in this movement particularly. Comparisons are inevitable with Abbado in all Mahler's symphonies. That Järvi holds his own is testimony to the very high quality of his orchestra and indeed his own conducting skill. The finale erupts onto the scene very satisfyingly and here every episode is moulded lovingly so that one is held fascinated throughout a very long performance, close to twenty minutes. The sound is good and the picture nicely detailed without reaching the high standards of the above-mentioned Abbado/Lucerne disc. All in all an attractive performance and recording.
Turning to the Resurrection Symphony one is in for a shock, both sound and picture are distinctly worse. The so-called HD picture is no better than a DVD and the sound loses much of its dynamic range. It is hard to work out what went wrong here since both recordings are moderately recent and have the same video director. As in No.1 the performance of No.2 is characterised by extreme tempi. Mahler's music does not necessarily suffer from such flexibility of pulse, indeed one almost holds one's breath as Järvi moves gradually through the long and dramatic first movement. The slow second movement is very slow but with such wonderful attention to detail that one is still gripped. The attacking timpani are somewhat muted by the poor recording dynamic at the start of the third movement but if one applies a mental filter it is tolerable. Mahler's big outburst at the end of this movement is similarly muted. Lilli Paasikivi sings with great beauty of tone at the now predictably slow tempo adopted by Järvi for Urlicht. The truly vast climax that separates this from the huge finale has richness but reduced impact which is a great pity given how wonderfully performed it all is. There is an added distraction when the off-stage band is shown on the screen to be well back and indeed outside the side-doors of the Kloster Eberbach but rather directionless in the sound-picture, certainly not behind most of the audience. The music-making is very impressive throughout this 36 minute finale - as long as any I've heard - and Mahler's gigantic canvas of catastrophes fills this large auditorium to great effect. The chorus exhibit wondrous breath control at Järvi's slow tempo. The conclusion must have been quite stunning but for us at home it has been moderated by over-cautious engineering.
The tea-boy has been busy in post-production as usual: a menu structure designed to make access difficult, even the two works are not easily accessed, let alone separate movements. Subtitles are buried in the lower levels and to add insult to injury it is all overlaid with extracts from the First Symphony, particularly hard to take when trying to reach the Second. The picture quality of the two talks is way better than that of the performances, though as indicated, the Symphony No.1 fares better than the Resurrection.
All in all some superb music-making significantly degraded by poor technical realisation. I would love to know what went wrong. Let us hope the remainder of the cycle does not suffer. Dave Billinge