Dan Morgan's review of Mahler's Symphony No.1 on the Reference Recordings label
Posted by Gregory Walz on October 7, 2015, 1:50 am
As a decades-long reader of art music record reviews, I am of the opinion that Dan Morgan's review of the recording of Mahler's Symphony No. 1 by the Utah Symphony and Thierry Fischer on the Reference Recordings label is one of the more dismissive reviews of its type that I have recently encountered. There is nothing inherently strange about such a review -- it adds to the panoply of perspectives that enlarge the scope of criticism. |
However, it has become fashionable for critics to assert that there are too many new recordings of Mahler's symphonies. That is perhaps true, but it is a bit strange to then assert by implication that many orchestras and conductors -- "concert programmers" -- program too much Mahler in live performances. Which orchestras are even included in this reference? For this one needs to have more facts than mere assertions.
Perhaps it should be an analysis driven by each orchestra's performance history -- not always easy to find even in today's digital world. The Utah Symphony has performed Mahler's First Symphony six times in concert (a Friday and Saturday performance on three separate weekends) from 1999 to September 2014, when the Reference Recordings "live" recording was made.
If one expands this timeline to include October 2014 to October 2015, the Utah Symphony has also performed the Second Symphony six times, the Third four times, the Fourth six times, and the Fifth four times. The Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth symphonies have each been performed twice, and Das Lied von der Erde and Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen twice as well. I consider this to be a more than reasonable trend, and nothing close to excessive -- at least for major orchestras.
As a side note, programming Mahler in Salt Lake City, where the Utah Symphony is based, almost never comes close to selling out Abravanel Hall, which can seat around 2,000 patrons.
I attended both live performances from which the recording of Symphony No.1 was made (with the exception of a brief 15 minute "patch" session or two), and from my perspective can attest that Music Director Thierry Fischer was not a semaphore. Are not all conductors semaphores in one fashion or the other? One can dislike a performance without having to impugn, even by allusion, the nature of the psychology or emotion that lies behind a conductor or an orchestra's performance and interpretation.
Mr. Morgan's review also finds him perceiving that only the final pages of the last movement invoke anything like what is apparently sufficiently emotive for a Mahler symphony. I would only add that not all of us like the First Symphony played and interpreted as if every bar is a high point that must be laden with "tension." I understand what that means in the abstract, but in practical performance terms what does a lack or presence of "tension" actually mean?
Most new Mahler recordings are not destined to garner critical consensus as being in the top tier of the discography, despite their excellence. Nor, I believe, should orchestras, conductors, artistic managements, and record labels only make recordings based on an all-encompassing knowledge of the discography beyond that of their own institutions. Their preferences should be evaluated with less hint of derision, even if one might have wished for an SACD cycle of Arthur Honegger's symphonies and other symphonic works from Thierry Fischer and the Utah Symphony. I would have preferred such a series of recordings, but in any event find reading critical reviews from all perspectives to be exceedingly enjoyable.