Jonathan Nott

Mahler: Symphonie No. 1

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Jonathan Nott and the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra have recorded a number of hybrid SACDs for Tudor that have scored high points for depth of expression and exceptional sound quality, and some of their best efforts have been devoted to recording the symphonies of Gustav Mahler. This rendition of the Symphony No. 1 in D major is certainly as polished as any of the others, and it can hardly be faulted for its wide frequency range and multichannel surround sound, even though the state-of-the-art recording produces some curious problems of direction and dynamics when heard on conventional stereo headphones. However, this performance has most of its problems in the overall interpretation. Nott is flexible and apparently accommodating to his players, so there are some interesting points where he emphasizes solos, secondary melodic lines, or small group passages that in other recordings are usually blended into the orchestral mass and not highlighted. This is great for anyone following the score, because Nott's choices are marked as if with a bright marker. However, this tendency to focus on little moments seems detrimental to the robust energy and propulsion of the symphony, at least in the first two movements. With the slower tempo of the third movement's funeral march, focusing on the close-up details is not a problem, and the tumult of the finale carries it along with such forward momentum, there's scarcely any time to linger over fine points. As a whole, this performance feels in its first half a bit like an audiophile demonstration, and in its second like a committed performance, so listeners may well feel unsatisfied and seek other versions that have sufficient energy and vitality from beginning to end.

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