ESSENTIAL RECORDINGS
Gustav Mahler - Symphony No. 1


GUSTAV MAHLER - Symphony No. 1 - Sakari Oramo (Conductor) - Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra - HQ Hybrid SACD - Exton 00034

This is a non-eccentric, non-idiosyncratic view and interpretation of the bold Symphony No. 1 in D major "Titan" by Gustav Mahler. And by that I do not mean to say that it is cold or detached, but rather that it is a straight and honest view of a symphonic work in which Mahler had not yet injected so much emotional and/or philosophical paraphernalia. It is simply performed as what it is: A bold symphony by a young composer full of promise.

The impressive opening of the work with its static wide-spread orchestral octaves is very well done here, and so are the off-stage brass segments. The main subject's entrance at the 3:48 mark is taken at a relaxed pace which sounds very natural. As more and more instruments join in the quality of this recording reveals itself. Nothing ever sounds congested or boxed in. The air around the instruments is palpable, the sense of depth tangible, and the dynamic head-room seems limitless. The segment in which the ideas from the opening are re-examined, from 9:00 to 11:00 minutes in, is but one moment in which Sakari Oramo really shines. He lets Mahler's brilliant orchestration speak for itself. He lets the expansiveness of the music lead the way. From then on and leading to the end of the first movement, he lets the music's joyfull character dictate the tempo, and the symphony's first orchestral burst at 14:17 is truly impressive, with the brass instruments open and full of bite. The loud timpani strikes at the end actually sound like they're coming from the back of the orchestra.

The rest of the symphony is performed just as well. That theatrical coup that Mahler employs at the 9:10 mark of the last movement, that abrupt and marvellous modal change from minor to major, is very well done, with just the right amount of weight. Again, during the central segment of the final movement, when the stillness of the symphony's opening pages is newly represented, from 11:14 to 14:00 minutes in, the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra players, violas and cellos in particular, produce a beauty of expression rarely heard from a large orchestra. And from 16:34 on, there are boundless levels of energy coming from all sections of the orchestra, with the declamations of Handel's "And he shall live forever" bursting out with joy.

EXTON is a Japanese classical music label recognized all over the world for its audio quality. As mentioned above, the soundstage and three-dimensionality of the sound is remarkable. If you are an audiophile, this is the classical music label for you.

Jean-Yves Duperron - September 2010