Utah’s Back With A Fine Mahler First

Review by: David Hurwitz

Mahler1Utah

Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

As collectors will recall with varying degrees of fondness, the enterprising Utah Symphony led off the Mahler boom on LP for Vanguard records, with a complete symphony cycle led by the intrepid Maurice Abravanel. A few noteworthy performances aside, mainly Symphonies Nos. 4 and 8, those performances haven’t held up all that well; but they did introduce many of us to some splendid music at a very affordable price, and for that reason they deserve at least an honorable mention.

Under Music Director Thierry Fischer, it’s clear that orchestral standards are considerably higher today than they were then, just as this SACD reflects improvements in engineering since the 1960s. Fischer leads a singularly appealing performance of this perennially fresh and engaging music. The first movement builds inexorably, the tempo accelerating steadily through the exciting final pages exactly as Mahler requests. Indeed, Fischer’s control of the music’s many sudden changes in speed is very impressive, both in the climactic moments of the scherzo and throughout this singularly cogent account of the finale. I also very much liked Fischer’s decision not to slow down excessively for the big brass chorale at the end–the excitement never lets up.

The funeral march, too, is beautifully paced and atmospherically creepy. Thank God Fischer sticks to the solo double bass at the opening, rather than the stupid and mistaken suggestion to have the whole section play that we find in the latest alleged “critical” edition.

Is everything perfect? Well,  perhaps not quite. The principal trumpet could be stronger, I suppose, and it would be nice to hear the suspended cymbals as the third movement marches to its ghostly close, but for a live performance especially (before a very quiet audience) this recording is a real contender. The sonics also are excellent, with a powerful, solid bass and plenty of room on top. As an orchestra-sponsored recording, this performance is distinctly more persuasive than the rather fussy MTT/San Francisco version of a few years ago. Very enjoyable indeed.



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Honeck (Exton); Bernstein (DG); Boulez (DG); Kubelik (DG)


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