Among the finest versions of Mahler's 1st Symphony is Rafael Kubelik's reading with his Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. His brisk, yet thoughtful, interpretation still holds its own against many newer versions, such as those from Abbado, Bernstein and Boulez. It's also one of two recordings of Mahler's 1st that I know of which is coupled with the Lieder that are the main themes in the 1st Symphony's 1st movement; the other is Kurt Masur's with the New York Philharmonic. Kubelik's tempi are a bit brisk, but not excessively fast. Admittedly the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra's level of playing is slightly below that of its peers in Amsterdam, Berlin, Chicago, and New York, yet theirs is still a fine performance. The strings and woodwinds evoke a rustic aura to Mahler's music, especially in the first and third movements, which an exuberant interpretation from the likes of Bernstein tends to overlook. Unfortunately, Deutsche Grammophon goofed with regards to sound quality; even this remastered digital bit imaging recording doesn't sound nearly as well balanced as those of Geza Anda and his orchestra performing Mozart's piano concertos that were recorded around the same time as Kubelik's Mahler symphony cycle. Yet despite this major flaw, I still strongly recommend this fine version from Rafael Kubelik, an underrated interpreter of Mahler.
on July 27, 2000
This performance of Mahler's 1ST is probably the best out there in terms of the quality of the interpreation and the playing. Unfortunately, the sound quality makes this a much less than perfect rendition.
Mahler here is played with more feeling than I have ever heard in this work prior - without overdoing it, like Bernstein was famous for. The first movement is zesty and bright, and the birdcalls are stunning. The third movement is sad, sounding like the death-mourning music that Mahler intended, rather than an orchestral transcription of "Freere Jacques", which is how Bernstein plays it (which in the Bernstein version does not explain the stormy introduction to the 4TH movement.) The tempi here is quicker than normal, but it works. (Beware: if you start to enjoy Kubelik's 1ST, then all other versions will seem to drag.)
The real problem here is the sound quality, which does not do this work justice. There is not much bass here which makes the brass and strings sound too thin -- In terms of engineering, this recording sounds more like Disney's (original) Fantasia in its 1940 sound, rather than say, Solti's Ring, recorded about the same time as Kubelik's Mahler. If you have another (digital) recording of Mahler's 1ST, and you are playing this on an audiophile system, then the difference in sound quality is truly maddening. (and an equalizer can only do so much...)
Nevertheless, Kubelik is not around today to provide us a new version in sparkling digital sound, and I have yet to hear a digital version played this well. (though Bernstein on DG is above average.)
on February 25, 2000
This is a totally captivating version of Mahler's 1st. The thing that struck me most was the "transparency" of this performance -- being able to hear each linear instrumental thread of the orchestral counterpoint, with all elements wonderfully balanced by Kubelik. Yet the power of the work as a whole is never lost; the raw emotions and youthful energy of this symphony were communicated in a way few other recordings achieve.
The relatively brisk tempi may surprise some fans (the total time is around 49 minutes - compare with Bernstein's 57 minutes) but Kubelik seems to have total control of the situation, so these worked very well and seemed entirely in keeping with the work's character.
Negative points? Well, the sound of the brass is a bit thin for my taste -- I don't know if this is due to the actual performance, original engineering, or digital remastering. However, this detail is minor compared to the overall positive impression of this reading. I recommend this recording to anyone -- seasoned Mahler fan or first-time listener alike.
on April 3, 2004
Here in the studios of DG in the late sixties percolated a performance of Mahler's Titan symphony that can only be described as inspired!!!\
Kubelik understand the pacing of this music WHERE others fear to tread...go ahead..try to find a performance on record of Karajan or Szell of this piece....
bet you can't...Why is this?
Simply put the above conductors never understood this early work of Mahler...it is structurally very tricky to bring off and to boot the Finale is technically hard to interpret with the Baton!!! In fact, another element of this work that Kubelik understands is that the work is somewhat rough..the winds here are allowed to predominate and also play out!!!
Many conductors like Szell and Karajan were too obscessed with Blend!!! IN Mahler this is death....the electricity of this recording is unreal..in fact I believe the Mahler cycle of Kubelik's is one the best...
he is consistently more interesting and allows the dynamics to emerge without becoming vulgar....just remember how bad Mehta was and you will know what I mean.
on June 3, 2002
Kubelik in this classic (though not especially good-sounding) rendition provides a Mahler First which is just that: a young man's first essay in the symphonic form. That this particular young man was a composer of genius is obvious--but Kubelik never reminds us that the "Resurrection" Symphony followed a few years later. In other words, Kubelik does not inflate this score to the proportions of Mahler's later, larger-scale works, as many conductors do (including some of the obvious "big names"). He presents the First on its own terms, giving us heaps of poetry and atmosphere, and stinting on slickness or showiness which aren't appropriate to the music anyway. (He also stints on exposition repeats, skipping the one in the second movement.)
The playing of the Bavarian Radio Symphony, who sound very much like a Czech orchestra here (Kubelik was, of course, a Czech, and you can argue that Mahler's background was as much Moravian as it was Austrian), is not blemish-free. This is especially evident through headphones. DG's sonics, while clear, can be thin and abrasive; as a result, some climaxes don't have the oomph that they really need (and for this, I blame the recording more than the conducting). If you can listen past these shortcomings, which in my opinion are not deal-breakers, you'll hear a Mahler First which is pretty close to ideal.
As for the coupling, Fish-Disk's circa-1970 "Songs of a Wayfarer" accompanied by Kubelik & Co., I would say it's a valuable adjunct to the symphony. However, either of the great baritone's other commercially available recordings (the 1950s set with Furtwangler, and a live performance in the New York Philharmonic "Mahler broadcasts" boxed set) find him on better behavior, less inclined to over-emote.
on July 15, 2001
If you only could have one Mahler recording in your collection, make sure it's this one. Kubelik knows how to conduct Mahler, and this is the best of his recordings. Mahler's first symphony is a masterpiece with the first three movement being somewhat passive but beautiful and emotional and surprisingly enough, extremely catchy. This then leads into the most dramatic finale ever written for a symphony(besides beethoven's 7th and 9th). I was absolutely amazed the first time I heard this symphony and even more amazed when i heard this recording. It is faster than other versions that are available, but it is also much more powerful. The sound quality, though not perfect, is rather excellent for an analog recording. Bravo to the remastering team. But not only do you get a symphony but you also get an amazing song set sung by an amazing singer. After listening to the symphony, listen to the songs, and see if you notice any similar themes. I bet you will! Perfect recording, amazing performance, and at a midprice you cannot go wrong. Make sure this disk is a part of your collection.
on October 20, 2000
If you want over-the-top hysteria (not necessarily a bad thing at times with Mahler), go with Bernstein. If you're looking for more conservative but still committed performances you can listen to again and again, Kubelik's your guy. He underplays the drama slightly, and while the result is still passionate, it's also solid, stable, and infinitely satisfying. Kubelik makes you more aware of Mahler's musical genius, where other conductors might focus more on the drama.
The orchestra might be a little thin in the strings, but they speak with Mahler's "voice" in a way that few other orchestras are able to capture -- there is a slightly rustic quality to their sound that captures the open air quality of Mahler's music. And they respond very well to Kubelik's sober but passionate direction. The brass and woodwinds, always important in Mahler, are superb.
Maybe not the most dramatic Mahler you've ever heard, but certainly among the most musical. It's the version of the 1st that gets put in my CD player most often. The price is right; remastering is expert.
You just can't go wrong with Kubelik and Mahler.
on December 25, 1999
Many consider the First Symphony as a lighter work of Mahler. To these ears, however, there are fewer great renditions of the First than there are of his heavier symphonies such as the Third and the Ninth. Kubelik reveals the inner beauty of this work in much greater details, and explores the spiritual aspects in more penetrating depth than others. Right from the beginning, the music is drugged with a distinctly well controlled misty atmosphere, only to be dissipated by the most beautifully played first theme. It is apparent that Kubelik works with great effort on every phrasing and tempo change, for nothing is done without a sense of purpose, or directly complements what comes before and after. The musical contrasts in the Third movement is perhaps the most challenging part of the symphony. Mahler wrote a Jewish wedding celebration to immediately follow the funeral march. Many play the haunting funeral march and the wedding jubilation as unrelated entities. As his later works exemplifies, Mahler is a master in using musical dichotomies. More often than not, it is the very moment when the mood of the music eeriely swings around that we get a glimpse into the polarities of Mahler's psyche. Few performances handle the transition in the 3rd movement more effectively than Kubelik. The profundity of Kubelik's account (and that of the music) becomes clear as the parody of life is highlighted not by the funeral march, but when the autere serenity is so rudely perturbed by the entrance of the wedding burlesque. We find ourselves bereft of laughter despite the festive celebration - a subtle musical sarcasm that is uniquely Mahler. This is one of the most philosophical and artistically well played renditions available, and comes coupled with a very fine Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen with Fisher-Dieskau as soloist.
on June 26, 2004
the arch conservative devil; claudia cassidy literally drove the poor poetic rafael kublik out of chicago for his 'abominable attachment to the moderns'.
kubelik, unfortunately was 'merely' an artist and, lacking political saavy, he could not withstand her vehement attacks.
there is a bit of irony here too because mahler himself was driven from new york by a conservative board filled with claudia cassidy types.
fortunately kubelik left enough recordings to leave his testament of true worth.
this mahler first is easily the most poetic reading you will find.
if there is a hell then i hope old claudia is tortured throughout eternity by being forced to listen to the beauty of kubeliks mahler, or even some xenakis.
by the way, the city of chicago still has a monument to the devil, cassidy.
perhaps someday it will be torn down
on January 5, 2000
Kubelik is constantly underated as a Mahlerian conductor and yet his cycle as a whole is delightful. His speeds are constantly quick and this has often been the sole reason for his dismissal, but Klemperer is just as extreme and does not seem to have suffered in the same way. If Klemperer is slow and thoughtful, then Kubelik is light and lyrical and his recording of the first is the pick of his cycle (although listen to eight as well if you can). He has exactly the right rhythm and feeling of the 'dance' element and engages immediately with the opening which is like an amazing daybreak. However, there is also plenty of power in the finale and it opens with a fine storm, second only to Tennstedt for dramatic punch. A fine recording and listen to other Kubelik Mahler recordings if you can!