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Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Symphony No. 1 Titan [55:50]
Utah Symphony Orchestra/Thierry Fischer
rec. live, Maurice Abravanel Hall, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA, 12-13 September 2014
reviewed in surround.

It is tempting to dismiss yet another Mahler First entering a crowded market as simply not needed. In this case it would be a mistake because this does offer something special in several respects. First and most important, a reminder that the Utah Symphony Orchestra is clearly still a splendid band for whom this complex work, with which they have a long recorded history, offers no terrors. Conducted briskly by their well established Music Director Thierry Fischer, these players respond with as rhythmically vital a performance as you could wish to hear. Tempi are a little faster than the norm but compared with some of the great Mahlerians like Abbado, Walter and Bernstein, Fischer is little different in terms of timings. He is different in approach, encouraging a dance-like quality from music where we are used to more pauses for introspection. One could support his upbeat view by reference to Mahler's own programmes but since the composer admitted these were often written after the music as a means for audiences to access it more easily, we will avoid such quotation. For whatever reason, Mahler's 'Titan' is often presented as positive. For example, the first movement has lots of characterful and very rhythmic woodwind playing, a sort of Mahlerian jam-session. It is a perfectly valid view. The second movement is in any case rhythmic, here it becomes more so, encouraged by Fischer's brisk tempi. It is an exciting virtuoso display. I have one small but significant criticism of the third movement. The double-bass solo is much too well played. There is none of the straining that Mahler must have expected. He could not have predicted how good modern players would become. As a result the theme gets a rather too sophisticated presentation. The explosive opening of the finale, helped by a very present bass drum and gong, pins one back in one's seat just as it should. The mystery and angst others find in this music is replaced by a lively and confident traversal through Mahler's teeming ideas ending with an eruption of sound that must have stimulated loud cheers from the Utah audiences but which the engineers have excluded for the home listener. Since the hall resonance has time to fade away this is either a 'patch' job, or the audience were asked for restraint.

The recording level is quite high but with digital media this doesn't matter. The Soundmirror engineers, long famous for their skill, have captured a convincing concert hall acoustic and though extra microphones were used beyond the five main ones, it does have a feeling of reality not often captured. Finally the notes are well written, detailed, extensive, give historic context and, thank you notes editor, printed in a readable size font.

Dave Billinge

Previous reviews: Dan Morgan ~ John Quinn


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