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CD Review

Gustav Mahler

Ondine SACD 1264
  • Symphony #1
  • Blumine
Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Hannu Lintu
Ondine SACD ODE1264-5 Hybrid Multichannel
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Mahler's First Symphony is often recorded and issued on its own. Generous record companies have occasionally partnered it with the Songs of a Wayfarer, which makes good musical sense given the role of the second song in the first movement. Another (less logical) option is the first movement of the Tenth. A quick survey of the 162 recordings available on Archiv Musik suggests that the Blumine movement, included as the second of five movements for the first four performances of the symphony, is not as widely adopted as one might imagine. But it is the chosen pairing on David Zinman's 2007 recording and quite a few others, including this very good SACD recording from Hannu Lintu and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, issued by Ondine. Blumine makes an excellent filling, delightful in its own right and also giving us a much clearer sense of the symphony as Mahler originally conceived it.

Lintu opts, like Zinman, to add Blumine as an optional extra, rather than present the First in its original five movement form. This is the right call, I think. Mahler's judgment seems to have been more secure than Bruckner's in evaluating early versions. Blumine is a charming piece that deserves to be played, but including definitely breaks the continuity between the opening movement and the scherzo.

Michael Steinberg quotes from a letter Mahler wrote to the conductor Schalk in which he says: "In the first movement the greatest delicacy throughout". Lintu's approach is entirely in line with this. He sets the stage with very precise playing in the opening minutes before the transition to the Wayfarer theme. Favoring delicacy over boisterousness makes the climax at the end of the movement more telling. The same pattern reappears in the scherzo, where the end of the movement gains from the relatively understated playing that precedes it (as well as from the gentle lilt in the trio).

Unfortunately the element of parody, while not entirely absent from the third movement funeral march, is certainly not foregrounded. Lintu's emphasis is on beauty of sound, and he certainly succeeds in this. In my opinion the symphony demands a rougher edge in this pivotal movement – in the opening bass solo, for example. One benefit of Lintu's approach, though, is that it highlights the drama of the finale, where the tone is definitely set by the tempestuous opening. Very expressive playing in the lyrical sections builds into a rousing and affirmative final hymn with very sturdy playing from the Finnish Radio Symphony brass.

There is no shortage of recordings of Mahler's First (in fact – no shortage of SACD recordings), but this is a very worthy addition to the field, more convincing to my ear than the recent DVD/Blu-ray live performance from Paavo Järvi and the Frankfurt Radio Symphony (see here for my review of Järvi's cycle). Recommended.

Copyright © 2016, José Luis Bermúdez

Trumpet