Mahler: Symphony No. 1 - Orozco-Estrada

Mahler: Symphony No. 1 - Orozco-Estrada

Preiser Records  PR90784

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral

Mahler: Symphony No. 1 in D major "Titan"

Tonkünstler-Orchester Niederösterreich
Andrés Orozco-Estrada (conductor)

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Reviews (1)

Review by John Miller - December 21, 2010

Most Mahler-lovers have a stack of First Symphony discs, carefully chosen from the many excellent versions available. Why bother with another one, lacking a fill-up of Mahler songs and a recording of live concerts by a little-known orchestra outside of Austria?

The Tonkünstler Orchestra of Lower Austria is the country's premier orchestra apart from the VPO and VSO. Its home base in Vienna is the magnificent Golden Hall of the Musikverein, which it shares with the Vienna Philharmonic, and where this recording was made. Principal conductors have included Walter Weller, Fabio Luisi and Kristian Järvi, with Andrés Orozco-Estrada the present incumbent. He hails from Columbia and completed his musical education in Vienna. His first major public conducting opportunity was with the Tonkünstler in 2004, where he stood in for an indisposed conductor. Hailed as "The wonder of Vienna" by the press, he was appointed Principal conductor of the orchestra in the 2009/10 season.

The word "fresh" to describe a performance is all too often applied; in this case I would say "rejuvenating". Already this youthful conductor is an instinctive Mahlerian, revealing the score rather than imposing his own foibles upon it. Yet the result is not impersonal - rather the personality is that of Mahler himself and not that of the conductor. The Tonkünstler has evidently formed a great rapport with their new conductor, and he in turn exploits their considerable experience in Mahler performance. Despite the complex gestation of this symphony, there is a sense of inevitability and cohesion, forward sweep and clarity of purpose which remind me of Barbirolli performances of the work with the Hallé in the 1960s.

From the first hushed forest awakenings and recounting of memories from Mahler's youth in the countryside, to its colourfully exuberant ending, the first movement (taken a tad slower than many conductors and thus bristling with well-integrated detail) is beguilingly evocative. Soloists, shape their phrases beautifully and are clearly listening to, and dialogueing with each other. The native Austrian feeling of the Tonkünstler players is delightfully demonstrated in their handling of the Ländlers and folk music of the Scherzo, while the droll parody of a dead hunter's funeral procession (pictorially well known by children of Mahler's day) is amusingly and boldly characterised. Mahler's Titan truly bestrides the finale, from the crashing anguish of its opening, through the sweet revelation of its glorious second subject melody (simply played without sentimentality) to its raw passion in later climaxes, all beautifully prepared and placed. The final triumph of the eponymous Titan is truly brings elation, and is met by a barrage of applause, which I was tempted to join in unreservedly.

Engineers from a number of top recording companies have ultimately been unable to fully render the wonderful acoustics of the Musikverein. Sound Technician Josef Schütz gives Mahler here an astoundingly three-dimensional and transparent sound-picture of the orchestra on stage, totally convincing, without any evidence of highlighting or boosting. This is just as the fortunate audiences heard it, with the hall's bloom fully evident, and its reverberation decay clearly present at the end of movements. The width of the orchestra seems to extend well beyond the front speakers, and the positioning of violin sections to left and right gives Mahler's antiphonic play in full measure. Even the audience applause, in surround, is much more convincing than most captures. A photograph of the concert shows a number of mikes over the audience itself, accounting for the spatial realism. I was able to play this recording at a much higher volume than usual (for the sheer thrill of it), and there was no degradation of sound at all, even at the top end. The hiss and shimmer of the cymbal clashes, for example, remains pristine.

Thankfully, the Viennese audience is distinguished by its silence, and only a few tiny stage noises could be picked up at the higher volume. Taken at two performances, I suspect that very little patching was used, and I certainly did not notice any edits. I hope Preiser Records give us more of this musical and technical team on SACD.

This issue is also blessed with a cogent and enlightening account of the symphony's genesis (in German and English) by Reinhold Kubik, the editor in chief of the Critical Complete Edition of Gustav Mahler's works. The booklet also has an amusing contemporary cartoon and a photograph of a fragment of the Fahrenden Gesellen song used by Mahler in the first movement.

Whatever the height of your Mahler First disc stack, I urge you to listen to this disc, for its brilliant performance and a recording which makes you deeply thankful for the SACD format. You may find, as I did, that the disc gravitates towards the top of your stack.

Copyright © 2010 John Miller and


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Comments (4)

Comment by Ben Leggett - August 12, 2023 (1 of 4)

Mahler is a tricky subject and everyone has their favorite style of performance for most of the symphonies.

But yeah, I agree, while there might be better performances, there are not any better multichannel performances than this one, not that I've heard.

Comment by hiredfox - August 16, 2023 (2 of 4)

Better than Ivan Fischers on CC? Unlikely.

Comment by Ben Leggett - September 7, 2023 (3 of 4)

R.E: Fischer's 1 - the recording is lovely but the performance itself and Fischer's stylistic choices don't do it for me.

I would encourage people to check this one out though, it's a good performance AND a good multichannel recording, and it definitely has flown under the radar.

Comment by hiredfox - September 14, 2023 (4 of 4)

This recording is in my library but has not been dusted off recently. I'll dig it out and listen again with your comments in mind Ben. Not immediately sadly as one of my Martin Logan Summit X's is down and awaiting shipment for repair.

Incidentally those using ML electrostatics may be interested to know that PMC are now the UK Agent for ML speakers.