June 2007

Mahler - Symphony No. 1; Blumine
Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra, David Zinman cond.
RCA 82876 87156 2
Format: Hybrid Multichannel SACD
Released: 2007

by Richard Freed

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ***1/2
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2

Zinman’s transfiguring account of the Third Symphony in the Tonhalle last year certainly whetted the appetite for his Mahler cycle, which now is coming out on RCA instead of Arte Nova as originally announced -- and in SACD. What I don’t find here, and what Zinman’s inspiriting recent Beethoven cycle with the same troops might have led us to expect, is the fiery intensity that illumined earlier recordings of this work under Mitropoulos (whose 1940 Minneapolis recording was the work’s disc premiere), Walter (particularly his first one, with the New York Philharmonic), Kubelík (his DG remake) and the seriously underappreciated Karel Ancerl.

Of course the norm for this work has broadened over the years, and Kubelík himself observed, in speaking of Mahler, that he regarded the question of tempo as the least important factor in forming an interpretation. Zinman’s approach is very much like Bernard Haitink’s recent remake with the Berlin Philharmonic on Philips, in taking a persuasive "middle road." The momentum never sags, the Innigkeit of the lyric episodes is unfailingly touching, climaxes are built with a sure hand. Overall this is further certification that Zinman has turned the always reliable Zurich orchestra into one of Europe’s very finest, and playing on this level is always a joy in its own right. The recording itself if solid and well detailed, if not quite demonstration-class, and the documentation shows a good deal of thoughtfulness.

Blumine, the second movement of the original five-movement version of the Symphony, is included here -- as a postscript, fortunately, rather than flouting Mahler’s final decision by showing up in its original placement -- in a cogent, effortlessly poetic realization that finds more than mere curiosity value in the piece.