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CD Review

Gustav Mahler

Symphony #1 "Titan" in D Major

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra/Marin Alsop
Naxos 8.572207
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This is a very good Mahler 1st, and so the only question for collectors is if they have room for another "very good" Mahler 1st. There are great Mahler recordings, terrible Mahler recordings, some of historical interest, and sentimental favorites. As this is simply excellent without being mandatory, it might fall through the cracks. It confirms the Baltimore Symphony as a tremendous instrument, and Alsop as strong advocate for Mahler. At the Naxos price point, there are few reasons not to give it a try.

In the opening movement, you can admire the Baltimore Symphony while also noticing that the overall character of the music is somewhat lacking. While the 2nd movement Scherzo isn't as self-indulgent as say, late Bernstein, it also is too straight-laced. Turn to Kubelik, or even Giulini for more of the necessary rustic charm. The winds sound lovely, but the strings and brass fail to capture the imagination. In the 3rd movement, I like the flowing tempos that Alsop adapts, but the music does so little otherwise that it's difficult to notice. Also, the conductor does not treat the opening double-bass part as a solo. I had to go back and listen again to confirm. Mr. David Hurwitz blames the International Gustav Mahler Society in his ClassicsToday review, and I'm willing to take the writer and scholar at his word. He also says this isn't a huge deal. It's not, but it sounds awfully stupid and sets the tone for some rather uninspired playing.

But I called this very good, and I meant it. The opening movement was excellent, but the Finale is outstanding. Suddenly, everyone has snapped to attention and created a genuine Mahler sound. Alsop sounds excited, and drives everyone forward with some tremendous momentum. Low brass sound terrific and the strings have the requisite bite. The last few minutes of the work have seldom been more thrilling. I can't pretend this is a first choice, but does great credit to both orchestra and conductor.

Copyright © 2014, Brian Wigman