Recorded in Sinfonie an der Regnitz, Joseph-Keilberth-Saal, Bamberg between 19-21 December 2005 & 1 February 2006
Reviewed by: Andrew Maisel
Reviewed: May 2008
CD No: TUDOR 7147
Duration: 55 minutes
Jonathan Nott has spent most of his professional career outside of the UK, conducting much of the time in the opera houses of Germany and from the late ‘90s taking charge of the symphony orchestra in Lucerne. In 2000 he became principal conductor of Ensemble Intercontemporain in Paris and also took over the helm of Bamberger Symphoniker from the ailing Horst Stein; they have travelled to the Edinburgh International Festival and the BBC Proms.
The recording highlight of Nott’s career so far has arguably been his contribution to the Ligeti project on Teldec with the Berlin Philharmonic. Nott’s previous recorded excursion into Mahler territory was the Fifth Symphony, a version which if it didn’t exactly shoot to the top of the tree, earned praise for its straightforward and unaffected approach and superlative sound quality.
Which is exactly what you get on this recording of the First. When the competition is so tough out there you’ve got to have something which makes you stand out from the crowd. Nott and his band don’t exactly set the world on fire when faced with the likes of Bernstein and Kubelík (both DG) and Chailly on Decca, but it’s refreshing to sample a Mahler performance in this age without many of the histrionics and idiosyncrasies affecting so many other ‘interpretations’.
The first two movements are the strongest. The hushed opening passages are beautifully played and phrased, the strings warm and affectionate in the Wayfarer’s music. There’s a delightful sense of ease with which the music flows, a sense of rightness that is refreshingly unforced if a little less poetic then with Kubelík whose Bavarian players are a little more evocative in the portrayal of nature.
The second movement Ländler is a delight with alert winds and fresh strings evoking the peasants merrymaking. The waltz-like trio is elegant and beautifully paced. The funeral march in the third movement is perfectly pitched with steady tempos although the recording doesn’t do us any favours here with the solo double bass virtually inaudible at normal volume settings; a slight problem with recordings with such a wide dynamic range such as this. The transition to the ‘Jewish Wedding Music’ is faultless. Bernstein and the Concertgebouw Orchestra take the funeral rather quicker and the ‘wedding music’ is the most ‘Jewish’ committed to record – although many will find Bernstein’s use of rubato here simply unacceptable. But there’s a sense of sheer joy and oneness about the way Bernstein and the Concertgebouw go about their music-making that transcends any idiosyncrasies. They swing in a way no others do. Sometimes Mahler needs to be a little more ‘vulgar’ and no-one understood this better than Bernstein.
Although not quite emulating Bernstein and the Concertgebouw, Nott’s way with the finale is – again – suitably well judged with a tumultuous opening, yearning strings in the second subject and an exciting build up to the glorious coda.