Manfred Honeck's 2008 live recording of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 1 in D major is presented in the hybrid SACD format, which offers extraordinarily vivid reproduction in this recording of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Remarkably, there are fresh tone colors that emerge from the ensemble as if played for the first time, and the DSD recording seems to highlight even the subtlest nuances. However, this sonic splendor takes a toll on the performance, because such instrumental lusciousness leads to malingering over parts, with considerable disregard for the symphony as an integrated whole. The momentum that needs to start in the first movement seems to dissipate every time Honeck pauses for a pretty phrase or a gorgeous timbral combination, and the energy that's needed to push forward into the Scherzo doesn't quite build. The Scherzo itself is confused by the tug-of-war Honeck creates through excessive rubato, between slow, emphatic beats and a much faster, sprightly pace. This is possibly the hardest movement to sit through, because the robust vitality this movement is supposed to convey is thumpingly rendered as a peasant dance, with a Trio section that seems almost lascivious in its languid tempo. The third movement, being a mock funeral march, is kept fairly steady, though it also has an unnecessarily sluggish middle section that pushes sentimentality to the point of preciosity. Of course, with three variable movements before it, the Finale can be no different: Honeck seizes every opportunity to distort the form by dragging slow passages, rushing fast ones, and exaggerating effects as if to outdo Mahler. There may be an argument for conducting this symphony in such a mannered way, but if it was done to make the interpretation stand out in a catalog overcrowded with routine performances, or to show off certain sonorities at the expense of form, then the composer and the audience have been ill-served, no matter how startling and colorful this recording may be.
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AllMusic Review by Blair Sanderson
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