DEFINITIVE RECORDINGS
GUSTAV MAHLER - Symphony No. 1 - Markus Stenz (Conductor)

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GUSTAV MAHLER - Symphony No. 1 - Markus Stenz (Conductor) - Gürzenich Orchestra of Cologne - Hybrid SACD - 4260034866461 - Released: August 2012 - Oehms Classics OC646

Long has it been since I've heard such a vigorous, nervy, energetic and muscular interpretation of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 1 in D major. Conductor Markus Stenz leads a performance that quite literally exposes the raw nervous power of life's youthful energy contained in every note of this wonderful early symphony by Mahler. Not to say that it's all just grandstanding and painted with broad strokes all the way through. Its famous introductory pages are expressed with a suspended sense of time, from which the main first subject seems to manifest itself from ancient primeval mists. And the mid-movement segment between the 9:00 and 10:45 points, full of mysterious shadows and subdued cuckoo calls, is really well done. The following horns are perfectly balanced. The tension and pressure build up to tremendous levels during the final 3 minutes of the first movement to bring the whole thing to a sparkling close.

The powerful Ländler rhythms of the Scherzo are convincingly up-tempo and robust, and well convey the music's bucolic and simple rural joy. The third movement "Funeral March in the Manner of Callot" keeps pace with a slightly faster than usual tempo which suits the overall character of this performance, without losing its somewhat bohemian, misfitting charm.

The final movement opens with a burst of energy second to none. Kudos here go to the Gürzenich Orchestra of Cologne members for their tremendously elastic dynamics and well timed accents. After the 3:00 mark, everything goes from brawn to charm and everyone's on board, with warm and lyrical lines. Once you've recovered from the peak of energy and cymbal crash at the 9:32 mark, you are in for one of the best played parts of this recording, where the music re-visits the main ideas of the first movement. The hushed sense of awe is tangible in this performance - the distant horns, cuckoo calls, and strings in particular - and captures the essence of the whole work in one magical moment. An overpowering sense of joy and energy is omnipresent during the final minutes of this recording, with everything paced and punched with exuberance and power.

I have been following this Mahler Symphony cycle of recordings on Oehms Classics very closely, and I must admit that so far I've been very impressed, with both the recording quality and the conductor's stance on Mahler. Thus far, Markus Stenz has done a magnificent job with the first 5 symphonies, the somewhat "brighter" ones. I for one can't wait to see how well he can change his colors with the remaining "darker" works.

Jean-Yves Duperron - August 2012