Classical Music Sentinel
, March 2012
This is definitely a cut to the chase interpretation of this epic symphony. Not to say that this sounds like a “let’s get this over with” performance. Far from it. It’s just streamlined, and better proportioned. Plus it fits on only one CD instead of the usual two. Bonus!
For example, at the 5:20 mark of the first movement where Gustav Mahler gives us a first glimpse at the heaven-to-be of the final movement, following a nervously taut Allegro introduction, Simone Young ushers in that vision as beautifully as I’ve heard before. It is characterized by a subtle fragility, as if the dream could easily be shattered. After a more vehement reappearance of the anger from the symphony’s first page, the 11:15 point marks the beginning of the funeral march proper, and this is where Young keeps everyone in line and everything moving. And that urgency seems to help emphasize those great shattering moments along the way. At 15:40 heaven returns, more clearly defined, more attainable this time around. The movement ends with the casket being lowered into the cold ground with a brutal effect of finality.
The second Andante moderato movement is beautifully shaped, with finely balanced levels of lyricism and drama. The members of the Hamburg Philharmonic Orchestra easily demonstrate that even large orchestras can move their weight around as if in ballet slippers. It is played very much in the style of an Austrian pastoral ländler, a perfect counterweight to the first movement.
The central scherzo movement forms the pivotal point of the symphony. Like a disjointed waltz it brings to the dance floor all the conflicting elements of the symphony, from the macabre major/minor modulations of the first movement to sudden outbursts of heavenly brass choirs, and all the comical aspects of simple rural life thrown in for good measure. It all leads to a fierce display of anger at the 8:28 mark quickly appeased by yet another glimpse at heaven. All these conflicting elements are well proportioned by Young and very well characterized by each individual instrumentalist in the orchestra.
This is a prime example of a monumental symphonic work that requires an arduous effort on the part of everyone involved in its creation. And even though there are moments here and there in this recording that are not quite up to my overly demanding standards, I would still grade everyone 110% for that effort. © 2012 Classical Music Sentinel Read complete review