Mahler 1

Osmo Vänskä / Minnesota Orchestra

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Mahler 1 Review

by Blair Sanderson

For this 2019 hybrid SACD, Osmo Vänskä and the Minnesota Orchestra present Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 1 in D major, the fourth release in their cycle on BIS. As with their previous audiophile recordings of the Fifth, Sixth, and Second Symphonies, the performance is nearly ideal in interpretation and execution, and this exceptional recording deserves the same critical praise its predecessors have received. Mahler's exuberant music, which incorporates a great variety of musical influences -- from tavern songs to a funeral march parody of "Frère Jacques," alongside evocations of nature and an apocalyptic vision of Dante's Inferno -- is a coherent synthesis of elements that can be found in the later symphonies, yet an astonishing masterpiece in its own right. Often given the soubriquet "Titan," after the novel by Jean Paul, the symphony is a refined version of an earlier tone poem of that name, but shouldn't be regarded as the same work, because Mahler removed all programmatic content, revised much of the form and orchestration, and published it without the subtitle. Also in keeping with the published score, Vänskä does not incorporate the rejected "Blumine" movement, which has often been inserted by well-meaning conductors in a misguided attempt at authenticity. Instead, this is the finished version that audiences should accept as authoritative, and Vänskä's reading is so intelligently conceived and artistically polished, it's difficult to think of a performance that rivals it, though it is reminiscent in its excellence to Erich Leinsdorf's legendary 1963 performance with the Boston Symphony Orchestra on RCA. Absolutely recommended.

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