This is a dissenting opinion, a review of a performance that was not to my taste. I'm not going to bash it because I don't think it's a bad or actively offensive performance of Mahler's work, but I do find it lacking in too many of the elements that to me are essential to a satisfying interpretation of this music.
When I first discovered Mahler's symphonies, at the time I was in college, they were through the performances by Bernard Haitink, which had been held in very high esteem in certain quarters but taken to task for being too "sane" in others. These interpretations were seen as the antithesis of Leonard Bernstein's overtly (or overly) emotive ones. I've never developed a stomach for Bernstein's Mahler, though it has many, many adherents. Given that, I expected that a more objective interpretation, which I'd read Ivan Fischer provides, would be to my liking. But I think his reading is far too low-keyed and underpowered to generate even the excitement that Haitink's could, not to mention Bernstein's. When I found myself longing for some of the throat-grabbing emotionalism that Lenny could bring, I knew something was amiss.
To me the difficulties began at the first bar. Rather than a stirring held chord, what I heard sounded weak. There was no fire, no sense of suspense, and the orchestra, as it would throughout the performance, sounded noticeably small. The second theme was quite beautifully played, lovely and radiant, but that loveliness and radiance seemed to inform most of the movement, and this, in my opinion, is not music that should sound pretty. The second movement, on the other hand, which presents one of Mahler's simplest and most beautiful melodies, seemed overinterpreted. The music never flowed but sounded micromanaged bar by bar. As I told a friend of mine, I had to rely on my memory of this music to follow what was being played. The scherzo struck me as dull, with none of the sinister or even ironic quality that seems so much a part of it. That's where my first listen ended. Then, out of curiosity and fairness, I gave it another spin. No better. The "Urlicht" was sung beautifully enough, but it didn't tug at my heart the way it has in other performances, and the finale seemed no more apocalyptic than a barbershop glee until the final pages that, for me, were ruined by overprominent percussion, turning the piece into a spectacle through which it lost any sense of spiritual transcendence.
Criticism is a tricky thing. Everybody has his or own life experiences that shape his or her taste, so what satisfies one will not necessarily satisfy another. This recording has garnered praise from many quarters, and I wish I could add to that praise, but I can't. Delicate, refined, and polite when it's not sounding vulgar and manipulative, this is not a performance I can endorse.