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Sym 1/Songs Of A Wayfarer [Hybrid SACD]

Gustav Mahler Audio CD

Price: CDN$ 32.12
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Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Do we need another Mahler 1st? Dec 29 2005
By Bryan Leech - Published on Amazon.com
The years have seen possibly dozens of Mahler firsts, many outstanding (for example, the Chicago Symphony/Georg Solti - admittedly showing its age sonically), so do we need another? Recorded as an SACD, the answer is, most certainly YES! Mahler, amongst the greatest of composers, wrote with a mixture of great subtlety and great complexity, both of which can only be fully revealed by the tremendous clarity of good SACD recording, this clarity being aided by the expanded sound field of the six channels an SACD makes available (at a higher quality than DTS sound!).

We are faced with two entrants into the field: the performance under review, and another by the San Francisco Symphony under Michael Tilson Thomas. Each recording is part of a continuing series that will culminate in a complete set of the symphonies of Mahler, and each recording, like the others already released, is an outstanding performance, superbly recorded.

To properly review this release would require a lengthy, detailed analysis of the performance, which would not be appropriate here. So all I can do is summarize and say that it represents a truly worthy entry into the SACD arena. The performance is up amongst the best. Zander has clearly thoroughly researched the score, fully understanding Mahler's intentions, and conveying this to his orchestra, one of the best in the world.

The trouble is, one can say much the same about the San Francisco performance. This orchestra, normally an excellent but parochial ensemble, has been raised by its conductor to top international level and virtually matches the Philharmonia. Although there are subtle differences between the two performances, both approaches are always valid. And the engineering is so similar in both clarity and discreet use of the available sound field, one could almost suspect that both recordings were made by the same production/engineering team, sonic differences being attributable to the slightly different acoustic of the recording venue.

So how do you choose between these performances, to both of which I can give an unreserved recommendation?

To the die-hard Mahlerite, I would recommend sampling both to find which one more closely matches your ideas about how the work should be performed.

But for most purchasers, the choice is easy. The Telarc release, as well as having the marginally better orchestra, includes, at no extra charge, a free 79 minute CD where the conductor discusses and analyses the work, with many musical illustrations.

Also, and this is a major also, the recording includes a complete performance by the same forces, accompanying the baritone Christopher Maltman, of 'Songs of a Wayfarer'. Although this is not the absolutely best performance available, it is still a very good one that would satisfy most listeners (including me). So, the choice becomes simple (although it wasn't for me: I'm buying both series!)

In summation: buy this and you will be getting an outstanding performance; oustanding engineering and outstanding value for money well spent.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bold Performances, Great Sound Jan. 18 2008
By Lawrence A. Schenbeck - Published on Amazon.com
I came to this performance, as will many others, with the memory of other exceptional Mahler Firsts already lodged in my brain: Mitropoulos 1940, both Bernsteins, Michael Tilson Thomas, and more. What could Zander and the Philharmonia possibly offer by comparison?

As it turns out, a lot! This is a bold, fully Mahlerian performance, as ardent and volatile as its young creator wanted it to be. At the same time, Zander exacts razor-sharp playing from the orchestra. I am not sure I've ever heard a British group deliver a score in such a supercharged manner. Nevertheless they can still stop on a dime, as it were, or execute ninety-degree turns with utter elan. It is all done in service to the drama demanded by the music. (If you don't want to hear what all those markings, like "Mit Parodie," "scharf herausgehoben," and "Wie eine Volksweise" really imply, skip this and go back to Boulez!)

Christopher Maltman gives a similarly committed, emotionally unbound performance of the Songs of a Wayfarer. His vocal characterizations, ably underlined by Zander and the Philharmonia, will strike some as over-the-top but they are never ugly or inappropriate. I am so glad this was placed at the beginning of the CD instead of as a "filler" at the end, because the music of the songs is, of course, intimately connected with the thematic material and general psychology of the First.

A special word about the engineering. Having listened carefully to the multichannel tracks of both this recording and MTT's recent effort with the SFSO, I must disagree with those who find them similar. Both are good -- but Zander, as produced and engineered by Elaine Martone and Jack Renner, with the able assistance of Polyhymnia and EMI Abbey Road, takes the cake. The soundstage is deeper, the instrumental imaging more precise, and the dynamic scale breathtaking. The Songs, with their chamber-like scoring, especially make the case for the Telarc team's production decisions. With my multichannel setup, I could hear more deeply into the details of these scores at virtually every point. But that certainly does not mean the overall sound lacked sweep or coherence. It was totally involving -- just like the performances. Bravo.
1 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars It coulda been a contenda... Nov. 29 2009
By Jeffrey A. Fong - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
I got my introduction to Zander and his Philharmonia series backwards, starting with his wonderful 5th. Remarkable about that recording was the poise and electricity permeating this meaty work - one, where it's all too easy to lose one's way or devolve into histrionics. Zinman's First, unfortunately, lacks the artistry of his 5th (and 4th, too). Listening to his commentary on the piece (disc 2), one wonders how the insight he articulated evaporated in the execution. Technically proficient (kudos to the Phil), this performance is damned to be, alas, rather ordinary. Excellent sonics.

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