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CD Review

Gustav Mahler

The First Three Symphonies

  • Symphony #1
  • Symphony #2 "Resurrection" *
  • Symphony #3 **
* Sally Matthews, soprano
* Michelle DeYoung, mezzo-soprano
** Sarah Connolly, mezzo-soprano
* BBC Symphony Chorus
** Philharmonia Voices
** Tiffin Boys Choir
Philharmonia Orchestra/Lorin Maazel
Signum Records SIGCD360 5CDs
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Astoundingly, this is Lorin Maazel's third complete take on Mahler, and it has to be said right away that the conductor has shown little affinity for the composer until now. His Vienna cycle on Sony was let down by the both lackluster conducting and playing, and his second cycle got literally no attention at all. At present, it's only available as Amazon MP3 files, which is an ominous sign. I suppose third time is the charm, although making customers buy all three installments of a new cycle is a bit unfair. Carping and history aside, this is a project that could be quite successful overall, because this is easily the best Mahler that the conductor has given us so far.

For decades now, Maazel has been hailed as a podium genius, and one of the most intelligent maestros around. Even with advancing age, it's clear he's still in total command of his forces. Unlike the Philharmonia's previous cycle on DG, nothing is poorly played, and the conductor is still attuned to every detail. He's never been known as the most lighthearted and fun one, though, and so the First Symphony falls a touch flat. It isn't that the music isn't really well played; it is, and the work is very well conducted, too. Rather, there is a freshness and discovery that is seemingly missing; all the notes are there, but there is no sense of joy or excitement. That said, Maazel clearly gets what he wants and remains in total control. So it's a matter of personal taste…it just feels a little too cold.

The Second, on the other hand, is mostly excellent, as is the Third. Here again I wouldn't have minded a bit more spontaneity, but there is certainly a mounting emotional pressure as both works progress. The finale of the "Resurrection" caught me by surprise in this respect, as it largely upholds a proud tradition of performance The rest of the Second is very well played, but may be a touch cool for some listeners; it lacks the supreme inevitability of Klemperer with the same orchestra. The Third though, is the best of the lot. A master like Maazel is always fun to hear in such a massive work, and he delivers a performance of great conviction. Overall, I look forward to the rest of the cycle, and to hearing what could very well be this conductors' final thoughts on a great composer.

Copyright © 2014, Brian Wigman