Mahler's symphonies were not works in progress like Bruckner's were, but the Symphony No. 1 in D major ("Titan") went through several stages prior to 1896, before reaching the form in which it is known today (as published in 1898). Mahler conducted two earlier versions that were critically unsuccessful, and this was probably the reason they were dropped from the repertory. Yet, there is much to be learned from the 1893 version simply called "Titan" heard here; it shows Mahler sorting out various strands of his creative vision. Formally, the biggest difference from the later version is the presence of a second movement entitled Blumine (Flowers), and that Mahler divided the five movements into two parts, giving each movement a programmatic title. He also expanded the orchestra in the later version, dropping all the programmatic references. One can admit that the later version is cleaner, and more concise, yet still think there is much to learn here. Mahler generally divested himself of programmatic ideas as his career proceeded, even though his episodic music often seems to suggest extramusical associations. Why? Perhaps he felt that such associations overloaded the music. Indeed here, especially given the sharply different texture of the sentimental Blumine movement, you can see his point. Yet, here you get the intensity of the young Mahler, and the rootedness of his first symphony in music he had cultivated earlier: orchestral songs and incidental music (in the case of Blumine, to a play called Der Trompeter von Säkkingen). These forms continued to influence Mahler even as he abandoned them, and this recording gives an idea as to how. The historical Viennese instruments of the French group Les Siècles, which has hitherto specialized in French music of this period, bring home the intensity. Sample the gutsy finale in the reading by François-Xavier Roth, who has also conducted Mahler in modern-orchestra versions. Highly recommended for Mahler fans.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim