- Conductor: Rafael Kubelik
- Composer: Gustav Mahler
- Audio CD (May 13 1997)
- Number of Discs: 1
- Label: Deutsche Grammophon - Universal Special Imports
- ASIN: B000001GX9
- Other Editions: Audio CD
- Average Customer Review: 15 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #58,281 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)
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Symphony 1; Songs Of A Wayfarer
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Here is a delightful coupling: Mahler's First Symphony and the song cycle that donated many of its themes to the larger work. Best of all, both performances are superb. Rafael Kubelik is the dark horse among Mahler conductors. His interpretations are always fresh, unforced and seemingly without exaggeration. However, he knows how to build a climax, and his generally swift tempos never permit a minute's boredom. There are many moments to cherish in his performance of the symphony, not least the delicious woodwind playing and the tangy trumpets in the third movement's Fiddler on the Roof music. Reissued at mid-price in excellently remastered sound--better than most new digitals in many respects--this is a performance that remains one of the best, and as a coupling it is unbeatable. --David Hurwitz
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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.
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.
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.)
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