It is easy to see why Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT) has won Grammy's for his Mahler recordings. They are superb, and some of the best this critic has heard! He gets from his orchestra exactly what Mahler had intended. When listening for interpretation, he can't be beat. It is obvious MTT had studied the score intensely, which includes translating hundreds of German words (almost the entire score is written with German words, except for a few common Italian musical terms).
The first movement is played very delicately and the nature sound comes through very nicely. The tempi and characteristic markings are followed very well. The opening is very ethereal and it is complimented by the great sounds of the orchestra. The one criticism is of the opening clarinet fanfare, it seems a little too loud and out of context with the rest of the orchestra. If it were a little quieter the opening would be stupendous. Overall a very great rendering of the movement because the natural earthiness he gives to the music.
The second movement has a very good feel and flow. The opening is not too heavy, and does not feel bogged down at all. The music flows very well from motive to motive and does not sound hurried at all. Mahler's seemed particularly worried about people hurrying this symphony and the conductor can find "Nicht eilen" (do not hurry), throughout the score. The one complaint with this movement is that the color of the winds, particularly woodwinds, sometimes gets eaten and consumed by the sound of the strings.
The third movement (the critic's favorite) is wonderful. The opening solo in the contrabass is very poignant and moving. The oboe entrance is also very nice. The biggest compliment can be paid because of the "Mit parodie" section.
If anything makes this recording work a listen it is the fourth movement. The biggest difference between MTT and other conductors is the pause in the movement after the large build up (it occurs on page 132 of the Dover score). He holds the suspense just long enough before releasing it into the glorious heroic sound. The end of the movement was very good, but the horns could have been brought out a little more – maybe the addition of a ninth horn would have helped, Mahler may have intended this anyway.
This is a top-tier recording of Mahler's First Symphony. It also helps that the recording is done on SACD, so if you have the correct equipment, it is a crystal clear recording on top of being a wonderful performance.
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Symphony No.1 "Titan"
San Francisco Symphony Orchestra
- Langsam. Schleppend (Slow, dragging)
- Kraftig Bewegt, Doch Nicht zu Schnell (With powerful movement, but not too fast)
- Feirerlich und Gemessen, Ohne zu Schleppen (Solemn and measured, without dragging)
- Sturmisch Bewegt (With violent movement)
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