Chicago Symphony Orchestra
One wonders what an octogenarian like Chicago Symphony Orchestra principal conductor Bernard Haitink has new to say about the work of a once up-and-coming twentysomething. Mahler began his mammoth first symphony at an age when many Americans move out of their parents’ home, and the young Austrian bet the house on his ambitious symphonic debut. Only the ever-sensitive Gustav would grandiosely adopt his work to Jean Paul’s novel Titan, in hopes of paralleling his own all-encompassing idealism. Haitink, who’s already recorded this “Titan” a handful of times, tempers the 24-year-old emotionalist with a gruelingly exact and controlled performance.
But finesse and dynamic nuances require proper recording levels, which, here, are frustratingly low. The whispered entrances in the first and third movements are nearly inaudible. The lemonade from these lemons is the well-placed shocks of CSO’s snarling brass, intensifying all the hi-fi seizures essential to Mahleria.
More remarkable is how good the CSO’s violins and violas sound. Overcoming their old reputation as wiry and sloppy, the symphony’s strings have seldom resonated in a manner as warm and full-bodied as in the lyrical final movement (4:00–6:00). They put to shame the harsher facade in Valery Gergiev’s recent release with the London Symphony Orchestra.
Near-flawless execution hampered by fluky technological shortcomings shouldn’t prevent you from chasing this one down. And now that CSO’s in-house label is available on iTunes in pristine, lossless form, the CSO concert-hall experience seems more portable than ever.