Sunday, May 14, 2017
Gustav Mahler: Symphony No.9 in D Major – Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra, Jacek Kaspszyk (HD 1080p)
The distinguished Polish conductor Jacek Kaspszyk conducts Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra in Gustav Mahler's Symphony No.9 in D Major. Recorded at Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall in Warsaw, Poland, on February 3, 2017.
In 1907, the year after Mahler completed his grandiose Eighth Symphony, he suffered three hammer-blows. His favourite daughter, Putzi, died of diphtheria, he resigned his post as director of the Vienna Court Opera after a bitter struggle with an anti-Semitic cabal, and a routine health check-up diagnosed a lesion in a heart valve. This would lead to the bacterial endocarditis that killed him four years later.
Mahler was stunned into temporary creative silence. He wrote to his assistant, Bruno Walter, "Quite simply at a stroke I lost all the clarity and assurance I ever achieved... I stood vis-à-vis de rien [faced with nothingness] and now at the end of life I must learn to walk and stand as a beginner".
As always one shouldn't take Mahler's words too literally. The following summer he composed his greatest song-cycle "Das Lied von der Erde", at tremendous speed, and it's hardly the stumbling effort of a tyro; in fact the delicacy of the orchestral writing reaches a new pitch of refinement. It's the remark about being "faced with nothingness" which is really significant. This song-cycle and the Ninth Symphony that followed it in the summer of 1909 are death-haunted works.
But there's nothing morbid about the Ninth Symphony. Mahler wrote at the time "I am thirstier for life than ever", and his great admirer Alban Berg said the symphony is "the expression of an unheard-of love for this earth, the longing to live in peace upon her... before death comes". How well that description captures the very opening of the Symphony, which steals into existence: a throbbing note on a cello, answered by the same note on a horn (imitating Mahler's unsteady heart-beat, according to Leonard Bernstein); then some deep bass notes on the harp, and a kind of summer rustling in the violas. Out of this quasi-modernist uncertainty a mood of beautiful resignation suddenly blooms, as the violins begin their melody.
The half-hour of music which then unfolds is surely Mahler's greatest single movement. It reveals in a lovely slow outpouring the well-springs of Mahler's nature: the idea of nature, a child-like innocence (with a pentatonic flavour harking back to the Chinese ambience of Das Lied), and most of all the idea of farewell – "Lebewohl". The word is inscribed many times on the score, and that opening melody, recalling Beethoven's Les Adieux (Farewell) Sonata, seems to whisper it. Later this melody transmogrifies into a quotation from a waltz suite of Johann Strauss – significantly entitled Freuet Euch des Lebens (Enjoy Life).
Typically, Mahler then brings us down to earth with a bump, with a pair of brusque "parody" movements. The first is an odd mix of rustic slow waltz and a much quicker "urban" waltz. The switchbacks between these worlds is done with Mahler's usual skill, but the musical invention isn't especially fine. Even more problematic is the whirling Rondo-Burleske movement. Some praise this as the most extreme point of nihilism in Mahler's output. But there ought to be a firm line between expressing banality and simply being banal, and in this movement I can't always discern it – not even when the tumult gives way to a "heavenly" foretaste of the last movement.
This finale is as striving and agonised as the opening movement was serene. It begins with an evocation of Bruckner's "heavenly" adagio style, complete with an ecclesiastical closing phrase, which frankly is too close to the Austrian master for comfort. And it relies too much on the Italian melodic "turn", which is stretched and squeezed without mercy. But it's also full of amazing things, such as the high violin line inching along over a low bass with nothing in between, in an uncanny premonition of Shostakovich's late style.
The most striking originality of this movement is the way it builds to a "catastrophe" which – as the philosopher Theodor Adorno shrewdly put it – sounds as if it had "secretly always been known, and nothing else were expected". Like Das Lied, the work ends in a hugely long-drawn-out close, but whereas that piece subsided into ecstatic oblivion, this one ends – to quote Adorno again – by "looking questioningly into uncertainty". It was the last symphony he was to complete.
Source: Ivan Hewett, 17/12/2010 (telegraph.co.uk)
Gustav Mahler (1860-1911)
♪ Symphony No.9 in D Major (1909)
i. Andante comodo [00:56]*
ii. Im Tempo eines gemächlichen Ländlers. Etwas täppisch und sehr derb [27:16]
iii. Rondo-Burleske: Allegro assai. Sehr trotzig [42:36]
iv. Adagio. Sehr langsam und noch zurückhaltend [55:36]
Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra
Conductor: Jacek Kaspszyk
Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall, Poland, February 3, 2017
* Start time of each track
Johannes Brahms: Piano Concerto No.2 in B flat major – Marc-André Hamelin, Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra, Jacek Kaspszyk (HD 1080p)
Gustav Mahler: Kindertotenlieder – Ewa Podleś, Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra, Jacek Kaspszyk (HD 1080p)