BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 3 in D Minor; MAHLER: Symphony No. 2 in C Minor “Resurrection” – Anny Felbermeyer, soprano/ Sonja Dreksler, alto/ Austrian Radio Choir/ Vienna Sym. Orch./ F. Charles Adler – Music&Arts CD-1265 (2 mono CDs) TT: 2:20:34 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:
In the annals of fine Mahler interpretation, we must include the legacy of Frederick Charles Adler (1889-1959), who studied with Mahler and who served as a chorus master in the 1910 premier of Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 “Symphony of a Thousand.” In the interpretation of Bruckner, Adler tended to champion the first editions, those cut by Loewe and Schalk, rather than the later emendations by Haas and Nowak. In 1951 Adler established the SPA record label, which often incorporated the service of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, operating under various pseudonyms. By the way, before we cast off the Bruckner original editions as “naïve” or incompetent, we might recall the argument made by critic Richard Capell that “the scores Haas (who often worked within a National Socialist agenda) wanted to expunge were often musically more effective.” While Bruckner could be intimidated and cozened by publishers into making adjustments – as in the E-flat (Fourth) Symphony’s adjustments of adding triplets running up and down in flutes and oboes – his original scores still express the degree of spontaneity with which the composer first realized his ideas.
The original (1873) version of the D Minor (Third) Symphony of Anton Bruckner is dedicated to Richard Wagner, but Adler performs the 1890 edition by Theodor Raettig (rec. live 8 April 1953). The original version was not premiered until 1946. Besides the conscious implementation of Wagner motives, likely added after Bruckner had visited the composer in Bayreuth, the work pays homage to the D Minor Symphony of Beethoven, especially in its colossal girth, the original 2056 measures’ making it the longest symphony in the Bruckner canon. The first movement theme, rising over a perfect fifth, copies procedures from Beethoven’s Ninth, as does the (originally intended) five-part structure of the Adagio. The sonics of the first movement prove nervous and resonant, the trumpet present, the pianissimo strings appropriately misterioso. The chorale third theme has been likened to the Crux fideles inter omnes that Liszt employed in his Slaughter of the Huns. Adler has slowed the intricate development section down so that the occasional Wagner reference – from Tristan or the “Ride of the Valkyries” from Die Walkuere – become audible. Those who relish the first movement delight in the appearance of the first theme’s triple fortes that mark the culmination of Bruckner’s musical periods, including its appearance just prior to the 16 measures of the ferocious coda.
The joy of the original Adagio lay in its five-part structure – reduced to three in subsequent editions – after Beethoven’s Ninth, and the wonderful realization of the soft E-flat introductory material, marked Feierlich. Adler elicits the authentic Viennese aura, moving through a typical Bruckner cadence into the Andante proper, the rhythms alternating, like those of Beethoven, between ¾ and 4/4. Dare to say, the syncopations become decidedly Wagnerian, with allusions to The Valkyries and Lohengrin. For a brief moment, just prior to the coda, we might espy Dvorak. A sixteen-bar introduction catapults us into the raucous Scherzo, legato versus pizzicato in competing eighth notes, strings, brass and tympani in full panoply. The Trio might bow to Austrian laendler and Schubert, but it contains its own unruly ethos metrically. The layering often suggests Bruckner’s improvisatory bias as an organist. The last movement immediately quotes tunes from prior movements: a direct homage to Beethoven’s D Minor Symphony. Adler takes the opening at a hurdler’s pace; then Etwas langsamer, the secondary tune swaggers forth. The movement proceeds to contrast polka and chorale motifs, the humorous and religious aspects of existence. The occasional fury with which the music erupts testifies to a dynamic principle in early Bruckner that the later editions tend to eviscerate. We must admire F. Charles Adler for the determination he has to present Bruckner’s controversial Raettig version – influenced by conductors Joseph and Franz Schalk – as an authentic expression of a sustained vision, here realized with an acolyte’s ecstatic verve and duly appreciated by a delighted audience.
The Mahler Second derives (29-30 March 1956) from a studio production of Austrian Radio taped for broadcast but without an audience, and not meant for commercial distribution. A wonderful sense of pace and space imbues this reading of the opening movement, the “mortal” thoughts balanced in long lines against the episodes of consolation. At several points, we can hear the influence of another Mahler disciple, Hermann Scherchen, in Adler’s tempo and dynamic decisions; that, or they simply share the common Mahler currency. The deliberate layering of Mahler’s contrapuntal development moves in plastic, eerie harmony, potent in the (romantically inflected) manner we know from Oskar Fried. The studio ambiance proves incredible responsive: warm and finely-honed, the harp and brass parts sing most expressively, rife with glorious color elements in their pantheistic and transcendentalist musings.
Lithely fleet and silken in execution, the Laendler movement sings luxuriantly, its more manic interior section rife with Mahler’s own paroxysms of alternate nostalgia and despair. The warmth of the string legato rounded by a honed, clear trill exudes a fine Viennese magic. Adler does not “modernize” the portamenti and rhetorical slides endemic to the Mahler experience. The da capo, pizzicato against legato phrasing, bespeaks Mahler’s special innocence in spite of a world of angst. Mahler’s penchant for grotesquerie enters in the Scherzo with tympani strokes that invite wicked and sarcastic waltz punctuated by percussive, anguished outcries. For the Urlicht movement, alto Sonja Dreksler intones with violin solo and winds to achieve a release from mortal bonds. Juxtaposed against the elemental faith (in mankind) comes the cry of despair of the death-march and echoes of the Dies Irae in a fateful F Minor, the first half of the extended finale. Adler communicates both the dire world-weariness and the yearning that will culminate in what he calls “the Great Summons” of the G-flat choral section of the second redemptive portion of the movement. The music moves to the admonition in Mahler’s poem, “Hoer’ auf zu beben” (Cease thy trembling) as the moment de profundis, the preparation for the new life to come. Anny Felbermeyer’s soprano sails above the chorus, the off-stage effects singularly “disembodied.” Yearning and sweet mystery combine—literally in the vocal duet with Dreksler—in Adler’s alchemical rendering of this spectacular music, meant to capture the majesty of a celestial vision, even if the composer’s faith retained an ineradicable trace of doubt.