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Mahler: Symphony # 1
Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Bernard Haitink
Mahler: Symphony # 1
Genre: Classical
 
An expert interpreter of Mahler's symphonies, CSO Principal Conductor Bernard Haitink leads the triumphant First Symphony, the work that introduced Mahler's staggering talent to the public.

      
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CD Details

All Artists: Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Bernard Haitink
Title: Mahler: Symphony # 1
Members Wishing: 0
Total Copies: 0
Label: CSO Resound
Original Release Date: 1/1/2009
Re-Release Date: 3/10/2009
Genre: Classical
Style: Symphonies
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaCD Credits: 1
UPC: 810449019026

Synopsis

Product Description
An expert interpreter of Mahler's symphonies, CSO Principal Conductor Bernard Haitink leads the triumphant First Symphony, the work that introduced Mahler's staggering talent to the public.
 

CD Reviews

Haitink, CSO: Mahler Sym 1: Virtuoso solo chops, Steamy Late
Dan Fee | Berkeley, CA USA | 06/30/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I'm reviewing the SACD hybrid disc that I ordered direct from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra home web site. Apparently, the red book standard CD disc is available from Amazon; but you have to get the super audio through CSO Resound. I'm playing both of the hybrid disc layers - red book on one system where I listen with headphones, less disturbing to others. Then, when home alone, I can fire up the big rig and see how the super audio goes down, via multiple five.point,one channels.

I've recently raved about the companion disc release with this one, which combines Poulenc's Gloria with a reading of the complete Ravel Daphnis et Chloe ballet. I was only able to check out that disc in red book standard; then later got the super audio, again direct from CSO Resound.

Let me take a small moment to loudly praise the customer service folks in Chicago. They offer nothing but excellent service, and are always happy to be talking to a caller interested in CSO Resound items. On a previous order, I was shipped the red book disc instead of the SACD I had ordered; and the service folks cheerfully sent me the SACD, plus a return package for sending back the red book disc. You just don't get customer service like that, these days. Many thanks to CSO Resound.

Now on to Mahler's first symphony. The small print in the SACD booklet tells us that this reading was captured during live concert performances, last May, 2008.

Right from the first, vibrato-less strings humming primeval, you know that this is the CSO, post-Solti. The European glow of the Fritz Reiner era has been transmuted into a muscular, luxurious, clarity of musical sound, all on fire. These tonal qualities are obvious enough in standard red book sound; but SACD does its typical high resolution magic, adding subtle spaces across multiple channels, all music filling the air.

One the familiar lieder tune that is the first movement's main theme enters, you can anticipate that Haitink wants this Late Romantic music to sing, sing, sing. His tempo is slow, but not beyond practice traditions, especially if our comparisons are old school conductors like, say, Kurt Sanderling or Jascha Horenstein. Haitink's Mahler has never been all that anguished. He takes good opportunity from a slowish basic tempo to bring out as much passing detail and inflection in the music, as is more or less apt to the tempo. Personally, I always miss anguish - Weltschmerz - in Mahler readings. My benchmark in the first symphony is still Horenstein leading the LSO. Now that's Weltschmerz. When the forces gather as the first movement unfolds, and the dissonances grate in passing, Haitink does not have the band smoothing that clash over, unduly.

The second movement Landler is not too fast, again. Jaunty, nicely wound up, nicely sprung. Music just keeps strolling along, no matter which particular orchestra department is given the front charge. Tensions and speed increases as the Landler climax builds up. Then we relax into a free and easy Trio interlude, gone all charming with utterly unselfconscious rubato. Turns, trills, cuckoo call intervals momentarily refer back to the first movement's nature sounds, though the nostalgia cannot last; soon the chugging Landler rhythm is back, with the woodwinds chiming completely on pinpoint. A listener must credit the horn section for apt touches, not overbearing; and the strings for etching, crystalline.

The third slow movement is not nearly as uncanny sounding in Haitink's hands, as it can be. Yet the sonic realms of Carl Maria von Weber's famous opera, Der Freischutz, are sufficiently connoted. When the first garish Trio of vulgar sidewalk cafe or saloon music breaks in, Haitink lets it have both boozy slouch and tonal sophistication. One might complain that all this is too polished, not garish enough. Yet the atmosphere and flow move along, consistent with Haitink's muscular, less neurotic grasp of Mahler. The second Trio section is quiet, humming quite warmly to itself, thinking its own way through the dark wood at twilight, trodding such familiar paths through the forest that nostalgia for the first movement and letting the musical horses have their head for home - these are all that lingers on the ear. Then we are back to the renewed night music of the canon opening; touched by shrieky bird calls. The bluesy cafe music heightens a lowering, darkening atmosphere with speed up whirls of crazy associations. Sadness is very subtle, seeping in on us. Then the canon winds us down, into silence.

Mahler supposedly said, of the opening of the concluding fourth movement - It's a cry of the wounded heart. Haitink does let Chicago loose, but no listener really need fear that anybody involved is really having a nervous breakdown. The Chicago players are simply so fluent by now, that any sense of hard instrumental strain is probably impossible. What virtuosos. What does come across palpably is the musical transformation that folds high drama into the worlds of night and nature, associated with Der Freischutz. Still, the first paragraphs' climax shows plenty of clash, edge, dissonance, and dissolve.

The transition to the tender music of the last movement is managed with rubato, finesse, and well - tenderness. Again the players are so fluent in instrumental technique that no touch of strain or unease can really be mustered. The softer level playing is sensuous and intellectual, simultaneously. The passion that builds up in the strings stays a bit restrained. Drama breaks in, again. Even louder and more turbulent, the Chicago players still do not sound undone. Then the concluding march rhythms are suddenly arriving, along with increased drama. Rising in a new key, the harmonies move forcefully, short of shattering. Dropping back, we wander through shadow with trumpet and horn calls supplementing in martial flourishes what were mainly woodwind bird calls in the first movement. The tender lyric's sweep adds to the gathering voices, hardly done singing out than it feeds a building tension by harmonic steps forward, upward. Martial noodling soon regains its footing in the music, and we start relentlessly stepping towards the end. Haitink again lets the band sound its dissonances, but never really leans completely into them. Only at the final closing paragraphs is Chicago playing anywhere near its full tonal and musical strengths. The percussion battery at the close is muscular, and yet again, nowhere near to the roof that department can raise.

So, what to make of it all?

I still hold Horenstein with LSO to be a benchmark reading. Add to that, Maazel with Vienna. Then add at least one reading that includes the deleted Blumine movement. I think my shelves hold at least three - Ozawa with BSO, Ormandy with Philadelphia, and Jacek Kaspszyk with LSO (London's Philharmonia, for Blumine). The more I live with the first symphony, the more I think Blumine actually belongs, back in. I like this Haitink reading so much, I really wish he had played it in the concerts.

So what's not to like? Well, some listeners may find Haitink's manners too civil, too restrained. If you are just waiting for a conductor to let Chicago completely loose, no holds barred, Haitink is probably not our man. Even making considerable points, loud or soft, fast or slow tempos - truth is, a listener to this disc will hardly feel that Chicago has come anywhere near to reaching its limits. The players are just so entirely fluent, so well blended, and so completely on tonal or rhythmic point at any possible given moment across four Mahler movements, that listeners may decide that the tension fails. I'm keeping this one, for its sheer virtuoso brilliance, and for its fluent beauty. Others may say, No, move on. Me? Five stars, especially in the super audio surround edition. Whew."
Slow, steady, and confident
Kevin Kim | Edmonton, Alberta Canada | 01/06/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Haitink's Mahler No. 1 is slow. Slower than most. I have watched the Berlin Philharmonic one conducted by Haitink in early 1990s in DVD, and it sure enough was slow too, although it sounded a little more tense than this CSO one. I love Haitink style if it is slower (or maybe even duller) than Abbado's or Chailly's. His slow and steady style seems working really well particularly in accumulating the energy gradually but steadily, then exploding at once. And when it explodes, it does so mightily. Under Haitink's baton, Chicago Symphony aptly demonstrates the stark contrast with its fine skills and enormous stamina. When Haitink conducts, it seems that sound dynamic becomes more expansive and delicate all of a sudden - from pianissimo to fortissimo, and in most cases it works beautifully. Haitink's new Mahler might not be the best, even among his own recordings, but nonetheless, I love this one, including its sound quality, speed, and overall structure."
Superbly played, but the Mahler First needs raw energy, not
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 11/17/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)

"The two previous reviewers go to great lengths to extravagantly praise or damn a reading of the Mahler First that is, in the end, quite conventional. Haitink's approach to Mahler is a known quantity, and having given us a complete cycle from Amsterdam and a partial one from Berlin, his third go-around in Chicago runs true to form. He is a conductor who rarely intrudes, and when his modest stance is coupled with a great orchestra, the results can be very moving. (I was carried away by a Mahler Ninth with the LSO that I heard in London this past summer.) Detractors hear a blankness where an interpretation should be, however. Sadly, that's generally been true in recordings. In concert, Haitink's ability to balance and voice chords provides a subtle mastery that microphones don't pick up, largely because it's the recording engineers who manipulate balances, volume, and dynamic shadings.

Compared to his earlier Mahler readings with the CSO, this Mahler First sounds delicate and reflective. There are some very slow passages in the first movement. Thanks to the superb musicians, these sound hushed and mysterious. With lesser performers, they would have turned slack. In fact, if your ideal Mahler First is propulsive and ebullient, full of high spirits and earthy rambunctiousness -- see Bernstein's two readings on Sony and DG -- Haitink's approach will be weak tea. But it goes down like baby Jesus in silk pantaloons, to steal from a French folk saying.

The peasant clog dance in the second movement is smoothed out rather than rustic, but the underlying pulse is strong. The turbulent middle section is superbly played but not exactly explosive. The mock funeral march in the third movement begins with the entire double bass section rather than a soloist (if my ears don't deceive me), and the tone is more straight than parody. The so-called Jewish music in the middle isn't played for parody, either. The finale erupts with more excitement than anything preceding, coming close to Bernstein's kinetic high tension. But Haitink's temperament is more even and soon takes hold in a controlled reading that nevertheless exploits the orchestra's phenomenal virtuosity. Be aware of a drastic slow down for the lyrical second subject, another example of Haitink asking for near stasis.

As much as I admire both orchestra and conductor, I wasn't captivated by this reading. Like a previous Mahler Sixth, its lack of driving energy isn't offset by such a strong emphasis on nuance."