Alsop’s Mostly Very Good Mahler First

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 8

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first. Marin Alsop evidently plays the double bass solo at the start of the third-movement funeral march not as a solo. This is consistent with the latest foolishness spawned by the International Gustav Mahler Society in Vienna, so it’s really not Alsop’s fault and it’s not a huge deal. More seriously, she conducts the “klezmer” music in the same movement with what my grandmother would have called a “Goyische Kop”. It doesn’t swing (compare to Kubelik on DG, incomparable here).

Otherwise, this really is a largely excellent performance, with numerous characterful touches. The first movement is mostly gentle, even through the initial allegro. Offstage trumpets are very distant, and the booming bass drum in the development section sounds deep and mysterious. It’s very atmospheric, even more so when the music explodes in the coda at its one real climax. The scherzo is also quite fine: a rustic stomp, with a nicely schmaltzy but not excessively cloying trio section. And I have nothing but admiration for Alsop’s handling of the finale—a swift, cogent reading that, in its refusal to drag out the concluding chorale, turns out to be one of the most exciting on disc. Mahlerians take note: this performance is worth hearing for the last two minutes alone.

Through it all, the Baltimore Symphony plays very well, especially given the fact that this is a live recording. I have to express some reservations about the engineering, however. It may be that the Funeral March came from a different evening’s performance, but for whatever reason it has been recorded at a distinctly higher level than the rest of the symphony. As a result, the finale’s initial outburst, violent though it is, lacks some of the impact that you know it must have had in concert. Still, you really do have to hear that stupendous ending. Just turn up the volume.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Fischer (Channel Classics); Kubelik (DG)

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