Alexander Joel / Staatsorchester Braunschweig

Gustav Mahler: Sinfonie No. 1 "Titan"

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Because the short and slight "Blumine" movement has been rehabilitated as part of the Mahler canon, even though the composer discarded it from his Symphony No. 1 in D major in 1896, modern conductors are left with three choices for dealing with it. First, they can completely ignore it and perform the symphony as Mahler published it, in four movements. This is the practice conductors have usually followed in the past, from Mahler's day up until "Blumine" became fashionable again, near the end of the 20th century. Second, they can insert it between the symphony's first and second movements, restoring it to its original place in Mahler's early scheme. Numerous recordings since the 1990s feature this arguably "authentic" arrangement, but they suffer because "Blumine" saps momentum from the first movement and breaks the continuity between it and the Scherzo. Third, it can be placed as an addendum to the symphony, included on a recording but set apart. The last option was used on this hybrid SACD release of the live performance by Alexander Joel and the Staatsorchester Braunschweig, where "Blumine" is placed up front and dispensed with, even before the symphony is started. Presumably, this was true of the concert program. However, this prominent placement gives the symphony an unnecessary prelude that leaves an aura of schmaltzy sentimentality hovering over the first movement, and essentially spoils its extremely effective opening. Without hearing "Blumine," the listener can practically feel the first moments of spring in the symphony's airy open fifths and gossamer harmonics, and its magic is brilliantly established. But with "Blumine" played first, the symphony's hushed introduction seems duller and less impressive, and its atmospheric music seems redundant after the mostly quiet spare movement has cast its vapid spell. For what is a perfectly satisfactory rendition of the Symphony No. 1, this performance didn't need "Blumine" at all, and listeners should feel free to start on track 2. What they'll hear then is a fresh, lively, and vigorous reading, unimpeded by a weak piece that adds nothing. Joel and his orchestra give the symphony a fairly conventional interpretation that won't surprise experienced listeners, but sometimes that kind of solid predictability is what is needed with this work. Coviello's sound is deep, broad, and resonant, but surprisingly clear and clean for a live recording.

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