Chicago Symphony Orchestra / Bernard Haitink

Mahler: Symphony No. 1

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For all its obvious fine points, Bernard Haitink's 2008 SACD of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 1 in D major presents a by-the-book reading that is quite comparable to many other good recordings, but it is not exceptional in any way that would impress aficionados. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra's live playing is technically clean and accurate and expressively spot-on, and Haitink's control of the piece's emotional highs and lows is admirable, especially because Mahler's histrionics in the Finale can get out of control with lesser conductors. The pacing of the symphony is also handled well, and Haitink observes accepted tempos, with only a little dragging of the beat in a few spots. Where Haitink differs from many of his contemporaries is in his choice to play the symphony in its published form, and to eschew the rejected "Blumine" movement that trendy conductors frequently insert between the first movement and the scherzo. The symphony works best without the interruption, and Haitink's choice is the right one. Other than that, this performance is as regular and routine as can be found, and it is certainly pleasurable in the luscious reproduction provided by CSO Resound. But because it lacks the spark or extra flair that would put it a cut above its competition, most listeners familiar with this work will find this recording perfectly acceptable but nothing to get excited about.

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