SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

Mahler: Symphony No. 1 in D / Vienna Sym./ Fabio Luisi – Vienna Sym. (2 LPs)


Published on March 4, 2013

Mahler: Symphony No. 1 in D / Vienna Symphony/ Fabio LuisiVienna Symphony WSLP 001 (2 vinyl LPs) ****:

This is a very good recording of the Mahler No. 1, well-played and well-recorded with a medium-distance hall ambience. Fabio Luisi, currently Principal Conductor of the Zurich Opera and Metropolitan Opera, New York has been Music Director of L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande and other European orchestras. Known primarily as an opera conductor, he has established himself equally  well in the symphonic repertory. This is the start of a new label put out by the Vienna Orchestra, like many similar orchestras worldwide (though so far, no SACDs).

The first symphony is Mahler’s Genesis. It establishes Mahler’s symphonic language, recurring thematic motifs referenced throughout his symphonic output: yearning, dream sequences of childhood, musical references to past life. This symphony paves the way for his magnificent symphonic output to follow.

The first movement deals with innocence and emergence. This is exuberant declarative music,  presented with great clarity and notable restraint by Maestro Luisi and his fine orchestra.

Movement #2 is a very deliberate ländler, contrasted with a wistful delicately-shaded  longing second subject. This is one of Mahler’s favorite devices, yearning , wonderfully accented by the Viennese orchestra. An exuberant finale closes this finely crafted movement.

Movement #3 presents a dirge-like march, a la Frere Jacques. For the density of sound contained within the lower registers, the clarity and a tonal balance achieved by Luisi are most impressive. The following Klezmer references are pointedly emphasized to contrast with the dirge and dream-like melodies to come. Luisi revels in these contrasts, presenting orchestral combinations of sound that will become one of the signatures of Mahler’s music.

Movement #4 lacks the frenzy of the helter-skelter nature of the finale. A heftier higher string sound is preferred, as the strings are obscured at times by the the weight of the brass. Yearning is well-contrasted, as throughout the entire work. The overall movement, however, is somewhat too restrained.

This release commemorates the founding of the Wiener Symphoniker label. Established in 1900, the orchestra has co-existed in lesser light with its better known colleague, the Wiener Philharmoniker. Working with the most celebrated of 20th and 21st century conductors (Celibidache, Bernstein, Abbado, to name a few), this orchestra is deeply steeped in the influences formative for Mahler.

The Mahler #1 has been issued on CD and special vinyl edition, one movement per side. The vinyl sound is spacious and wide range, without a hint of digital compression, the natural sound one has come to expect with such carefully-crafted vinyl recordings.

Well recommended!

—Ronald Legum




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