Mahler: Symphony No. 1. Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Yannick Nézet-Séguin. BR Klassik 900143. Total Time: 53.25.
Our man Yannick continues to amaze with his accumulation of music directorships around the world. For most conductors, either the top job at the Met or the Philadelphia Orchestra would have been enough; Yannick has both, not to mention music directorships of the Rotterdam Philharmonic and the orchestra which began it all for him in Montreal, the Orchestre Métropolitain. But wait, there is more. Yannick has also formed close associations with at least two other leading orchestras. He tours regularly with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe and is a favourite guest conductor of the Bavarian Radio Symphony, with which he appears in this new Mahler recording.
Last year (2015), Yannick made a recording of Mahler’s unfinished Symphony No. 10 with the Orchestre Métropolitain (ATMA Classique ACD 22711). Having started at the end, as it were, he is now going back to the beginning, with Mahler’s Symphony No. 1. Over the years, Yannick has been conducting most of the Mahler symphonies on a regular basis, and no doubt there will be a complete recorded Mahler cycle in his near future.
This new Mahler First, already highly praised by many, fully deserves the accolades. While Munich has three first-class orchestras, the Bavarian Radio Symphony, which has enjoyed the leadership of the finest conductors – Eugen Jochum, Rafael Kubelik, Colin Davis, Lorin Maazel, and the present principal conductor Mariss Jansons, among them – is arguably the best of the three. Under Yannick, it plays magnificently.
The First Symphony is in many ways Mahler’s Pastoral Symphony, offering the sounds of an awakening nature in the first movement and peasant dancing in the second. Carefully etching this evocation of country life, Yannick builds it slowly, as Mahler instructed. Only towards the end of the first movement, does Mahler allow loud brass and percussion to intrude, and Yannick never overdoes it. He also takes his time with the slow movement funeral march, making the most of its lugubrious beginning, treating the middle section with love and restraint, and going big only in the finale. Again, conforming perfectly to Mahler’s instructions in the score. The climaxes are full-throated and glorious, with special emphasis on percussion. At the very beginning of the movement, the percussion punctuation is of lease-breaking proportions, and at the very end, the depth of the rumbling from the bottom of the orchestra has to be heard to be believed, as the sound engineers make the most of Yannick’s vision.
In short, this is an exciting, beautifully conceived and rendered Mahler One, soundly captured by the BR Klassik engineers.
The afore-mentioned Chamber Orchestra of Europe is featured in a recently released complete recording of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro (DG 479 5945), part of an ongoing Mozart opera cycle conducted by Yannick for DG. I’ll have a review of it in a few weeks time.
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