“MAHLER Rarities” = Symphony No. 2 in c minor “Resurrection”: Andante moderato; Sym. No. 4 – Soloists/ Hilversum Radio Philharmonic/ Paul van Kempen – Pristine Audio

by | Apr 15, 2016 | Classical Reissue Reviews

The Mahler legacy adds two rare documents of innate interest to the history of recorded sound. 

MAHLER Rarities” = Symphony No. 2 in c minor “Resurrection”: Andante moderato only; Sym. No. 4 in G Major – Cadillac Sym. Orch./ Arnold Schoenberg (Sym. No. 2)/ Corry Bijster, sop./ Hilversum Radio Philharmonic Orch./ Paul van Kempen – Pristine Audio PASC 466, 62:08 [avail. in var. formats from www.pristineclassical.com] *****: 

Restoration engineer and producer Mark Obert-Thorn revives two significant documents for Mahler acolytes: the NBC broadcast (8 April 1934) of composer Arnold Schoenberg’s appearance before a pseudonym ensemble – likely members of the Blue Network Orchestra – leading music by the very composer who had championed his own scores in turn-of-the-century Vienna. The other, the G Major Symphony (January 1950) from the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam led by Paul van Kempen (1893-1955), a former violinist under Willem Mengelberg who himself enjoyed a strong career in Dresden, Hilversum, and Berlin.

The Schoenberg recording – in music other than his own – impresses us with its stylistic sympathy for a movement fraught with a pantheistic fervor and touched by nostalgia. A small break in the recording suggests that a change to another shellac disc had been required to capture the performance for posterity. Schoenberg applies his own rubato to the score, carefully modulating the energies its sometimes martial character. The sonics here, including the Milton Cross introduction, remain scratchy and distant, but the musical effect proves no less valuable for the purpose of historical context.

Much of the Paul van Kempen rendition of the G Major Symphony bears the mark of Kempen’s mentor Willem Mengelberg, for scale and poised monumentality.  Kempen, for his own sake, favors brisk tempos and pointed climaxes that may introduce a rallentando or slide, but never at the cost of lyrical or dramatic progress. The playing maintains the transparency of texture that institutes a new trend in the otherwise thick Mahler syntax. The second movement proves quite effective: originally conceived as a kind of grotesque, medieval Death’s-head allusion, the music also contains two remarkable trio sections, the second of which has the orchestra soaring majestically. The un-credited solo fiddle, played scordatura, casts an eerie glow within this hybrid score, whose sense of mortality and transcendence compete with one another. The lovely G Major Ruhevoll movement in variations may well remind auditors more of Bruno Walter than Mengelberg, except for the exuberant drive in the tempo, moving with ineluctable buoyancy to the huge E Major eruption that opens a new universe, a moment of Heaven just before the music settles back to G.

Philip Friedheim used to point out that the G Major Symphony had been conceived in reverse: as a leftover from the Third Symphony, since the tune of the last movement had appeared in the children’s voices prior, and awaited completion in this music. Through harp and strings, soprano Bijster – rather nervous in her vocal stability, especially when contrasted to my favorite, Teresa Stich-Randall – intones of a feast, a slaughter in Heaven that miraculously brings bliss, even to the sacrificial lambs. Kempen’s only inscribed Mahler symphony, the recording comes from a rare CD-R, having never been issued on LP. We are lucky to have it.

—Gary Lemco


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