|MAHLER: Symphony No. 1 in D
San Francisco Symphony Orch; Michael Tilson Thomas, cond.
SAN FRANCISCO SYMPHONY 0002 (DDD) TT: 56:14
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MAHLER: Symphony No. 6
in A Minor "Tragic."
These are the first two issues in the SFSO's planned Mahler cycle all to be recorded during live performances. Symphony No. 6 was recorded Sept. 12 - 15, 2001, shortly after the 9/11 tragedy, Symphony No. 1 during concerts the following week. There must, indeed, have been an atmosphere of tragedy during these concerts, conveyed by this performance of the Sixth, surely one of the most impressive on CD, quite far removed from the violent hysteria of Solti/Chicago (London) and Neeme J”rvi's runthrough on Chandos which is so hasty (72:32) there's time for a 7-minute "Mahler" filler. The latter is the only recording of Symphonisches Praeludium supposedly written by Mahler, orchestrated by Albrecht Gürsching; this would be the only reason to have this recording..
In this memorable performance Thomas luxuriates in the many lyric outbursts of the symphony - the "Alma" theme has never sounded more expressive, and the orchestra's superb strings soar appropriately. In the finale MTT opts for two instead of three hammer blows ( heard at 17:41 and 28:01) which are impressive although not as cataclysmic as I expected considering that this is a digital recording. The first is, indeed, quite shattering, but the second rather subdued. However, in most recordings the hammer blows lack impact. The most effective hammer blows I've ever heard aren't from a commercial recording, but a live performance of a Baltimore Symphony broadcast some years ago with David Zinman on the podium. I was at one of the performances quite close to the orchestra and could see the specially-built heavy wooden box, about the size of a podium, which was struck with a huge sledge hammer producing an awesome sound that reverberated throughout the Meyerhoff concert hall for several secondsvividly captured on the broadcast recording. I've never heard anything like it in any commercial recording.
This twin-CD set is a stereo
hybrid SACD which can be played on any standard CD player. If
you have an appropriate player, you can hear the 5 channel mix. The
sound is superb in regular stereo, but
in multi-channel it is remarkable. There is a broad spread to
the orchestra, strings are resin-filled, brass bold and brilliant with
plenty of resonance to replicate the sound of a good concert hall.
I cannot imagine how this was engineered during live concerts;
there are no audience sounds of any kind. This, from a sonic
standpoint, is infinitely superior to the first in-concert recording
of MTT/SFSO, an RCA disk of music from
and Juliet with
scrawny, blurred soundrecording that won the 1997 Grammy
Award for "Best Orchestral Performance" and was, incredibly,
lauded by some critics for its sonics as well.
Both of these are major additions to the Mahler CD catalog.
R.E.B. (September 2002)