Back to first thoughts for a Mahler First that might bring you up short
Don’t miss this one. Where mainstream releases of the First Symphony from the likes of Sir Simon Rattle (EMI, 12/92) have included the discarded Blumine movement as a species of makeweight, Jan Willem de Vriend has gone back to the earlier incarnations of the complete score into wich Blumine slots more naturally as the second segment of what was then a five-moment: ‘’Symphonic Poem in Two Parts’’. The smaller sonority isnt’t primarily the consequence of employing the capable Netherlands Symphonic Orchestra.
Rather it reflects the scoring Mahler required at this earlier stage in what was to prove, even for him, a long compositional proces.
Whatever the arguments for and against the rehabilitation of Mahler’s moonlite serenade, restored to currency only in the 1960s, this is the first recording of the complete 1893 version to acquire international distribution since that of the late Wyn Morris (Virtuoso, 12/70-nla). As such it may be seen as required listening for Mahlerians.
Know principally as an early music specialist, the Dutch conductor’s emphasis on clarity of articulation, helped by excellent sound, allows the unusual aspect of the instrumentation to register more clearly than in that older, more romantic reading. In several passages the oddities will bring you up short.
Of course, where other composers might have tinkered with their scores to make them less risky in performance, Mahler, the flamboyant composer-conductor, was doing the precise opposite, acquiring more chutzpah over time. In this intermediate incarnation, the work’s opening fanfares are given, more traditionally, to muted horns, extra timpani strokes underpin the start of the Scherzo and the beginning of the funeral march has a solo cello doubling that famously exposed solo double bass. The very end of the piece would not survive unscated either. All fascinating stuff and unlikely to be trumped by a comparable issue. Don’t expect the grand manner and you won’t be disappointed. The music-making is winningly fresh and vigorous.