GUSTAV MAHLER - Symphony No. 1

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GUSTAV MAHLER - Symphony No. 1 - Stuttgart Philharmonic - Gabriel Feltz (Conductor) - 4260014870822 - Released: April 2014 - Dreyer Gaido CD21082

This new "live" recording of the Symphony No. 1 by Gustav Mahler is yet another great example of how critically important it is to capture the sound of a symphony orchestra in its native habitat, the concert stage. Only here, in its natural environment, can an orchestra show its true colors and reveal its wild side. After all, there's nothing like the nervous energy and electrical charge of a large number of musicians working together to attain perfection, all the while standing on the edge of total chaos at every change in tempo or dynamics. Inside the studio, the urgency to get things right the first time fades, and so does the music's pulse. Plus, during a live performance, the conductor needs to be fully alert to a myriad of different aspects of the sound emanating from the instruments in front of him, and set the music's course straight right from the very first note. Anything can happen.

This performance exemplifies all of the above. The relaxed pace of the first pages of the opening movement allow for a slow and natural unfolding of nature at dawn, waking as slowly as the sun itself rises, and reaching its full potential only as the midday's heat reaches its peak. Conductor Gabriel Feltz captures, between the 8:00 and 11:00 minute marks, the absolute stillness of the air, of the hazy heat, and seems to suspend time for a moment, as the orchestra holds the music at a standstill, as if every living creature on earth was aware of the energy of life itself. And then only three minutes later, he unfurls all the sails, and rushes towards the ecstatic end of the movement with so much power and speed, that it takes everything for the orchestra members to hang on for dear life, and they do, which brings the first movement to an uplifting and thrilling close. I also like the way Gabriel Feltz makes the third movement sound somewhat gauche and maladroit, as it should be, as every instrument joins into the "ronde enfantine" to the tune of Frère Jacques. And of course, the final movement here is bursting at the seams with energy, especially during the last few pages of the score, where it seems the music feeds on its own momentum and propels the orchestra through the finish line. A rousing coda indeed.

I'm ashamed to admit that the other previous five releases from this Gustav Mahler symphony cycle by the Stuttgart Philharmonic Orchestra under Gabriel Feltz passed completely unnoticed under my highly tweaked Mahler radar. Having heard this powerful account of the First, I must now seek them out.

Jean-Yves Duperron - May 2014