When I am in a relaxed and expansive mood, my first choice of Mahler's 1st is that of the Chicago Symphony and Tennstedt. It is slow, expressive and builds up powerfully to an impressive release at the climax. The section alluding to the funeral march is completely idiomatic to my ears and evocative of the mystic Romanticism on which this symphony is broadly based. Not for nothing has Tennstedt earned his credentials as a peerless Mahlerian. But at other times I do wish for a slight upping of tempo and more brio. After all this was the work of the composer in his zestful youth.
And now here comes Abbado and the Lucerne Festival Orchestra and after the first listen, you know this will be the first preference for many, many people who love the 'Titan'. Fresh as a zephyr, it zips along at just the right tempo, nuance and emotion and with superlative playing from his hand-picked Orchestra, Abbado has a winner.The slow movement is stirring, the 'storm' passage ripping and the conductor whips up the whole of his forces to an rousing finale. Yes, the youthful Mahler, the impetuous Mahler at last. Sir Simon Rattle will be conducting Mahler's 1st with the Berlin Philharmonic in Singapore on 24th November (I'll be there and can't wait to witness his take on the symphony...will he out-Abbado Abbado ?)
As for the Prokofiev 3rd Piano Concerto, the other work on this disc, I will stick out my neck and say that you have never heard it played this way, this fast.Yes, typhoon Yuja Wang is at the keyboards and sends the Lucerne Orchestra scurrying after her in arguably one of the most exciting piano concerto playing I have ever heard live or in a recording ! Abbado manages to keep all under control, but only just I would say. Dazzling speed and technical wizardry would be of just passing interest if only that, but the young pianist also impresses with her musical interpretation. Frankly the audience was left non-plussed at least for the first half a minute after her final flourish judging by the polite applause but soon it dawned on them that they have indeed heard something extraordinary and the ovation thundered.
A wonderful concert disc. Buy it for the Mahler, buy it for the extraordinary Prokofiev.....this is just 5 star performance all the way !
Postscript: Sir Simon Rattle's live performance in Singapore on 24 November 2010 exceeded all my high expectations. The BPO was in top form. Mahler's Titan was expressive and expansive when it needed to be and youthful, gripping and spirited when appropriate Stunning, just stunning. And the good news is that it was filmed in 3D for future DVD release. So if the sound and video engineers don't slip up ( like they did with the Blu ray for Abbado's Mahler 2nd Symphony), who knows months from now we may have a fantastic 3D version of Mahlers First. Intriguing ??