Composers: Mahler
Compositions: Symphony No 1
Performers: Minnesota Orchestra/Vänskä
Catalogue Number: BIS BIS2346

The ‘Concerto for Orchestra’ qualities of Mahler’s First Symphony ensure that no one can hide. This radical work catapulted the symphonic genre into another universe. With their palpable confidence and commitment, the Minnesotans are in fine fettle. In the exquisitely tentative, yet wonderfully expectant opening, the strings sustain magnificent pianissimi, alive to every nuance, and the woodwinds’ piquant bird calls evoke Mahler’s unique ambience and pantheistic sweep.

However, I’m sorry to say that with the arrival of the Ging heutMorgen über’s Feld theme, the tension seems to mysteriously slacken and the phrasing becomes somewhat generalised and less evocative. In the second movement, the ländler has just the right degree of boisterousness and the central waltz sounded delightfully inebriated. Vänskä’s take on the second subject of the ironic huntsman’s funeral third movement made it sound both like shtetl music and a seedy 1930s Berlin cabaret tune but, while the performance is perfectly fine, it seems somewhat faceless.

I’m sorry to write this about an account so beautifully played and recorded but it just doesn’t have the magic that Bernstein or Tennstedt brought to this score. The finale’s length and complex structure pose the greatest challenge and here the strings, in their soaring melodies, and the brass acquit themselves magnificently. This performance is just less than the sum of its often considerable parts.