Roth’s Intermediate Performance of Mahler’s Intermediate First

Review by: David Hurwitz

MahlerRoth

Artistic Quality: 6

Sound Quality: 8

This disc purports to offer the 1893-94 “Hamburg/Weimar” version of the First Symphony with its original title of “Titan: A Tone Poem in Symphonic Form”. Let’s be clear: there is no such thing. Mahler altered the scoring of every one of his symphonies every time he conducted it. When a composer is such an inveterate reviser, either you consider every concert he ever conducted as presenting an independent “version”, each of which is equally valid (a nonsensical notion), or you have to draw the line at those moments where the edition used received some kind of definitive sanction. This particular edition, a composite actually, still in five movements including “Blumine” (played way too fast), represents nothing but a pit stop along the way to the work as we know it now.

There are many differences in orchestration. You hear them right at the beginning–the opening fanfares are differently scored; but much more significantly, the orchestra is smaller, and in this recording it really sounds it. The performance is fleet and often exciting, especially in the scherzo and bits of the finale. Unfortunately, the first movement fails to catch fire. The backwardly balanced cymbals and horns don’t help, and the funeral march needs more snap from the woodwinds. Its irony and grotesquerie are not much in evidence. More to the point, every change that Mahler made to the scoring in the final version represents a marked improvement in terms of clarity, balance of sonority, and impact. Just consider the timpani at the start of the finale.

Despite the admirable moments, performances such as this leave the listener with the impression that the edition is supposed to sell itself, rather than anything charismatic in the way that it’s played or interpreted. There are other recordings of the First Symphony’s earlier incarnations available. I suppose you should hear one of them for curiosity’s sake, and then get back to the symphony that we all know and love.



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: None for this version; Symphony No. 1: Kubelik (DG); Fischer (Channel Classics)


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