This is Mahler’s least “Mahlerian” symphony, sunny and optimistic as opposed to the exquisite darkness that followed. The first movement includes cuckoos, oddly linking it to Vivaldi’s “Summer,” and other rustic themes. Then we progress through charming peasant dances, some hauntingly sweet passages, and a huge banging finale that presages what was to come from the composer.
Under Perlman, we got an introspective and well-behaved approach. This was not the burning fire of Leonard Bernstein, who brought Mahler into the mainstream almost single-handedly. Nor was it the weeping sentimental approach now heard only on old recordings under dead European conductors. The orchestra seemed unusually responsive, and the performance could have been recorded in one take. For example, the brass section, very exposed here as always in Mahler, turned in one of its best performances I can recall.
It would have been nice to hear Perlman play one of the big pieces that best show off his famous dynamic range and supple sound. Still, he’s become a fine conductor, and perhaps his charisma helps him to connect with the orchestra on some deeper level. The result was both a memorable performance and a nice celebration of a great, still-growing, musician.