Music Director Marin Alsop. (Grant Leighton)

When composer Gustav Mahler premiered his first symphony in 1889 in Budapest, the audience reacted to the music in bewilderment, with some listeners clapping at the end and some booing.

On Friday evening at the Music Center at Strathmore, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s treatment of the Symphony No. 1 in D Major prompted the audience to rise in a lengthy and well-deserved ovation for a performance that was as expansive as it was expressive.

Conducted by Music Director Marin Alsop, the BSO approached Mahler’s “Titan” symphony as a cohesive whole imbued with character and emotions. Rather than exploiting the composer’s ideas in the episodic way in which they are often construed, Alsop ensured that each section and every musical statement was played deliberately with transitions that flowed and coalesced into the work’s overarching structure. Her efforts meant that the 55-minute symphony unfurled in layers, from the first note to the last triumphant chord.

Though the work’s opening bars sounded uncharacteristically tentative for the BSO, which wavered on the unison pitches, the orchestra settled quickly into its hallmark sonority after the initial muted trumpet call. Alsop allowed the BSO to flirt with a touch of melodrama throughout the symphony, especially in the second movement’s stately peasant dances and in the third movement’s sweetly somber melodies. She kept the musicians well under control, even through the shrieking introduction of the finale, but gradually relented to the movement’s inevitable momentum and unleashed a grandiose concluding fanfare.

Jean is a freelance writer.