Gustav Mahler und Sein Klavier = MAHLER: Fifth Symphony: In gemessenem Schritt. Steng. Wie ein Kondukt; Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen: “Ging heut’ morgen ueber’s Feld; Lied, “Ich ging mit Lust durch einen gruenen Wald; Fourth Sym.: Last mvt. – Preiser

by | Oct 30, 2010 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Gustav Mahler und Sein Klavier = MAHLER: Fifth Symphony: In gemessenem Schritt. Steng. Wie ein Kondukt; Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen: “Ging heut’ morgen ueber’s Feld; Lied, “Ich ging mit Lust durch einen gruenen Wald; Fourth Symphony: Last movement – Gustav Mahler, piano

Preiser Records PR 90781, 30:02 [Distr. by Albany] ****:


Gustav Mahler recorded four of his compositions 9 November 1905 on the premises of the Welte & Sohne Company in Leipzig. Mahler had purchased a Bluthner grand piano in 1902, and it is to such an instrument to which the Welte mechanism has been attached to reproduce Mahler’s realizations of his own scores on piano rolls. Typical of the period, Mahler indulges in Romantic exaggerations of style: appreciated chords, added octave passages, extensions of dotted notes, tempo rubato, delayed entries of the right hand, and a difference in the tuning of the tone A to 435. Mahler will actually change a note in performance; as is noted, the upbeat in the Fifth Symphony’s measure 322 adjusts the interval from E–C to E–A.  Preiser claims, given the adjustment to the rolls and the maintenance of Mahler’s transparent textures, that “the present recording is the first that can be considered reasonably authentic.”

Mahler opens with The Fifth Symphony first movement (1902) obviously playing from the full score, his intention clearly to approximate the dynamics and colors of the orchestra. Mahler’s bass effects contrast dramatically with his articulation of the upper register brass parts, the underlying, funereal pulse –in imitation of his heart arhythmia– even permeating the tender motif that either means to provide consolation or recommend  death as a balm.  The running 16th notes prove quite nervous, either by design or through Mahler’s insecure technique. What the welter of arpeggios does reveal is the music’s debts to moments in Wagner. The middle section introduces all sorts of “Viennese” liberties in metric pulse, almost as if Mahler were bowing to Schubert.

The second of the Songs of a Wayfarer obviously held great meaning for Mahler, having scored it as the leading motif in his First Symphony. Both the vocal part an the accompaniment coalesce in Mahler’s arpeggiated realization, the right hand shading the left slightly to create expression and agogic tension. The wistful quality of the song, its sad acknowledgment of unrequited love, urges itself even in the midst of sky-born twittering and warbling from Nature. “I Walked with Joy in Woodland Green” from Des Knaben Wunderhorn (c. 1890) indulges in bird calls interwoven with arpeggios, ad libitum. Mahler plays the D Major version–with finger slips–often delaying the melodic notes against the staccati bird calls that vaguely recall Schumann’s Vogels als Prophet.

The last movement of the Fourth Symphony invokes the song “The Heavenly Life” from Des Knaben Wunderhorn (1892) but here in full orchestral panoply. The quick shifts of tempo add a nervous dimension–along with missed notes–that remind of us of the grisly nature of the heavenly slaughter that renders the poet so much joy. We can palpably feel the close kinship of Mahler’s keyboard rendition with that recorded by Mengelberg with orchestra and Jo Vincent, soprano. The tempos seem quick, although the passages related to the oxen slaughter receive a deliberate ritard. Mahler’s blatant disregard for the written score  coincides with a remark made by Paderewski: “what is important is not what is written, but what the musical effect must be.” Such freedom–or patent license–however obnoxious to current music practice – clearly defined the ethos of performance in Mahler’s time, which remains unapologetic and infinitely compelling.

–Gary Lemco

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