The Mahler symphonies remain a favorite repertory choice for many SACD labels. Their complex and varied orchestrations often cry out for surround sound display, and some of them have off-stage instruments and widely-spaced choral and solo forces which make them ideal for multichannel recording. Add the live recording situation in the acoustics of an excellent venue – which is being followed by the labels for the Concertgebouw, Philadelphia, San Francisco and London symphonies – and you have a winning combination.
Mahler’s first symphony – a sort of tone poem – was a surprising achievement from a 24-year-old. While I would more likely recommend the Fourth as an introductory Mahler symphony for the newbie, the First is a less heavy and complex work than the later ones, although it still has an epic quality. I was surprised that Gergiev – usually giving us startlingly powerful interpretations – seemed a bit lower-key and held back this time. His First didn’t come close to the power and emotional impact of Tilson Thomas’ SACD with the San Francisco Symphony. Gergiev takes the funeral march for the dead hunter at a rapid pace compared to others, and finishes the symphony in less time than most too. However, playing is superb and so are the surround sonics.
– John Sunier