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SACD Review

Gustav Mahler

Symphony #1 in D Major "Titan"

Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Bernard Haitink
CSO Resound SACD CSOR901902 Hybrid Multichannel 1:41:25
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Giulini, Tennstedt, Solti, Boulez, and others have tackled this work in Chicago on disc, and Bernard Haitink entered the fray with this 2009 effort. It received mixed reviews, but this is true of all of Haitink's Mahler. With the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra alone he recorded this work thrice, and it's fair to ask what he brings to the table that is new. I actually like the performance quite a bit, but that has more to do with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra than the conductor.

Haitink has always struck me as a reliable but occasionally boring musician, an opinion I have voiced within these pages before. He's always had the good fortune to work with the world's best ensembles, but has not always been able to make that into a successful recorded career. He also tends to record pieces over and over. The Mahler 1st is a favorite of the conductor, and he seems to be inspired by the Chicago Symphony both here and within other projects. The brass and winds are full of character, especially in the first movement, which I quite enjoyed.

The Scherzo is rather flat, though. Despite typically excellent playing, the conductor refuses to let the music go. The result is not unusually slow in regards to tempo, but the effect is awfully dull. The Funeral March is markedly better, a touch short on sleaze but full of nice touches. I've read that it was slow and boring, but I don't have any real issue with it. The Finale features predictably stupendous brass but again is a touch short on overall atmosphere. Haitink fans and those of the orchestra will be perfectly happy with this excellently recorded live version, but it would ultimately be pointless to pretend that orchestra and conductor haven't done this music better.

Copyright © 2015, Brian Wigman