Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Symphony No. 1 [54:55]
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra/Marin Alsop
rec. live, 26, 28 September 2008, Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, Baltimore, Maryland
NAXOS 8.572207 [54:55]
Based on Alsop’s 2008 concert performances this recording of Mahler’s First is a welcome new addition to the discography. Her engaging interpretation immediately captures the style of the work through both tempo and timbre. Throughout she achieves a satisfying sense of voicing and this well conveys the scoring. It resonates pleasingly in the good acoustics of Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. The balances fit aptly into the overall concept of the piece, and the engineering renders the sonorities effectively.
The interpretation gives appropriate weight to the outer movements. There’s a fine presentation of the atmospheric sounds in Mahler’s introduction and a seamless move to the first theme. Details, like the staggered rhythms of the woodwinds are not only structural and are supported by the sound that brings out these elements. At the same time, Alsop is faithful to the dynamic levels of the score and this is complemented by the intensity she gives to the passages that contain sustained sonorities. This gives the first movement a sense of momentum, which leads well to its climax. Along the way, Alsop clearly articulates the sections of the development section which is distinctive from the recapitulation. The coda caps the work elegantly.
As much as Mahler is notorious for his highly annotated scores, the Scherzo of the First Symphony is devoid of performance indications for long stretches. Here Alsop shapes the work with nuanced tempos that render the phrases appropriately. The accompanimental figures support the thematic content with careful attention to articulation. The sense of a Ländler, however stylized, is clearly part of Alsop’s success in this movement.
With the third movement, the funeral march, Alsop is equally effective. The movement opens with the individual sounds of the timpani and contrabasses. These are soon joined by other bass instruments, to create that sense of irony that has full effect in the composer’s programmatic Todtenfeier for the huntsman. Yet the middle section of the movement, the instrumental paraphrase of the third song of the cycle Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (“Die zwei blauen Augen”) stands out for its cantabile style and rich orchestral sound. Subtleties, like the demure horn entrances and the clarinet figuration, add to the effect. With the Klezmer-like sections, the passages Mahler intended to evoke the music of Bohemian musicians, Folk-like inflections are present without becoming a caricature, and the result is a cohesive interpretation. In this movement the sound levels seem relatively high, so that the sometimes quiet, chamber-music sonorities are as audible as some of the more overt passages of the Scherzo. This serves the recording well, even though the sound would be different in a live broadcast.
In the Finale Alsop shows her mastery with a most convincing interpretation. A sense of dynamic and rhythmic tension underscores this performance, with the individual sections that comprise the structure of the work clearly articulated. Alsop is good to present the opening sections as a series of ideas. In the latter part of the piece she achieves a remarkable climax through her sense of drive and direction. Just as Alsop is faithful to the score, she expresses her own interpretation in the details she brings out in this recording.
Fresh and vibrant, this recording of Mahler’s First Symphony is appealing as a persuasive reading of this familiar work.
The audio quality of this recording merits attention for the way it conveys the sound warmly. As much as the release is based on live performances, audience noise and hall sounds are minimal and mainly inaudible. However the intensity of the performance of the Finale deserves the applause the audience would naturally have offered at the conclusion. This recording has much to commend it to Mahlerians everywhere.
James L Zychowicz 

Fresh and vibrant, this makes for an appealing and persuasive reading of this familiar work.

Masterwork index: Mahler 1
Track listing
Langsam, schleppend [16:21]
Kräftig, bewegt, doch nicht zu schnell-Sehr einfach und schlicht wie eine Volksweise [8:41]
Feierlich und gemessen, ohne zu schleppen [11:10]
Stürmich bewegt [18:42]