Review of Mahler Symphony No. 1 – Minnesota Orchestra, Osmo Vänskä, conductor
The shimmering string harmonics at the opening of Gustav Mahlers First Symphony bring to mind the suspended breath of spring, and will have signaled even to the very first audiences that a new symphonic era was being ushered in. Soon enough the composer introduces some of the elements that would become key components of his musical language: sounds of nature (here cuckoo calls) are combined with quasi-militaristic fanfares and high-art chromatic wanderings in cellos, as if to illustrate Mahlers view of the symphony as an all-embracing art form. The symphony, which the composer originally gave the subtitle Titan, borrows extensively from the song cycle Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen. But Mahler also incorporates elements of Moravian popular music (in the second movement) and in the slow third movement famously quotes a minor-mode version of the childrens rhyme Bruder Martin (also known as Frere Jacques). The finale transports the listener to a world of Gothic theatricality reminiscent of Grand Opera, before arriving after a number of false starts at the symphonys heroic chorale-like ending. This symphonic world-in-microcosm is here brought to life by the Minnesota Orchestra and Osmo Vanska on the fourth installment in a series which has earned the team the description among the finest exponents of Mahler’s music on the website allmusic.com.
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