MAHLER: Symphony No. 3 in D Minor; BERG: Lulu Suite – Mary Lindzey, sop. (Berg)/ Hildegarde Ruetgers, mezzo (Mahler)/ Choeurs de L’ORTF/ Maitrese de l’ORTF/ Orch. National de l’ORTF/ Jean Martinon – Cascavelle (2 CDs)

by | Jul 16, 2012 | Classical Reissue Reviews

MAHLER: Symphony No. 3 in D Minor; BERG: Lulu Suite – Mary Lindzey, sop. (Berg)/ Hildegarde Ruetgers, mezzo-soprano (Mahler)/ Choeurs de L’ORTF/ Maitrese de l’ORTF/ Orch. National de l’ORTF/Jean Martinon – Cascavelle VEL 3160 (2 CDs) 63:50; 59:10 [Distr. by Albany] ****:
French maestro Jean Martinon (1910-1976) does not loom large in the minds of connoisseurs of Mahler, despite his having a decided “Germanic” repertory at his disposal, especially beholden to his reign in Duesseldorf (1960-1966). This restored, radiantly intoned, live performance of the Mahler Third (30 September 1973, recorded by the Institut National de l‘Audiovisuel)) comes some ten years after the Paris audience had its first exposure to this most pantheistic of the Mahler symphonies via the efforts of Hungarian conductor Georges Sebastian.
It often appears that Martinon fashioned a new French brass sound specifically for this rendition of the D Minor Symphony, a sonority still thin and nasal but no less articulate and colored by Mahler’s perpetual ambiguity between Empyrean bliss and vulgar emanations of the Infernal. Martinon maintains the elastic tension of the massive first movement with relentless force. The trombone and snare drums of the first movement appeal to Martinon both as interpreter and creator, his own compositions often favoring the sound combination.
The post-horn work of the Comodo movement stands out, given its “initial” program of “What the animals in the forest tell me.” Nietzsche’s plea from Zarathustra that Man be worthy of the epithet “Man” sounds at the midnight hour most chillingly, even through its message of deepest joy beyond woe, courtesy of mezzo Hildegarde Ruetgers. The juxtaposition of the children’s chorus and mezzo fifth movement Wunderhorn song, “Es sungen drei Engel” could hardly seem more anomalous, the annunciation of redemption and spiritual relief’s arising out of profound meditative solitude. The serene D Major Adagio (Ruhevoll) comprising the last movement extends much of the transcendent tissue in Beethoven’s Op. 135 F Major String Quartet. Mahler had intended to subtitle this luminous movement “What love tells me.” Such love does not obviate the appearance of searing passion and heartfelt anguish, but the numinous consolations reverberate through Mahler’s idiosyncratic chorales. Mahler requests “sehr gesangvoll” in the course of his massive climaxes, and Martinon and his ensemble oblige with robust vigor. That Martinon has not softened or cleaned up Mahler’s sonic improprieties does his sense of the Mahler gestalt full credit. The ORTF low brass, low winds, cymbals, and percussion have done their duty in synthesizing clamor and incongruity into a perpetual ascent of the spirit. And when the French yell “Bravo!” for this reading, they’re not kidding.
Small world: I had alluded to Frank Wedekind just recently in my review of Bartok’s The Miraculous Mandarin with Gerard Schwartz (on Naxos), when along comes Martinon’s rendition of the 1937 Lulu Suite (21 November 1971) to fill out the Mahler Third. Martinon himself found inspiration in the music of the Second Viennese School, although the French ensemble here seems unsteady. Though Berg died prior to having completed Lulu, the Suite often stands in for the unfinished Act III. The music, beginning with the Rondo: Andante & Hymn: Sostenuto, captures the vain conventionality which Lulu, an adventurous wanton, discards. The music reflects Berg’s fascination with mirror-effects and palindromic scales and dynamics, almost a perverted response to Alice in Wonderland via Frank Wedekind’s morbid imagination. The scoring, besides its rich jazz orientation, reveals an extreme delicacy of texture and harmonic progression, a curious sensitivity in the midst of so much that remains sordid in Lulu’s world. Each character has his own tone-row, based on Arnold Schoenberg’s harmonic musical theories but here utilized in the manner of Wagnerian leitmotifs. The Ostinato: Allegro second movement foreshadows much of the moral disaster that befalls virtually everyone whom Lulu affects. Mary Lindzey intones Lulu’s Song (Comodo), a plaintive moment from a character whose traits one finds both pitiable and despicable at once. The Variations and Adagio movements might condense Lulu’s multifarious and sordid love interests and her gruesome demise at the hands of Jack the Ripper. Saxophone, brass, and snare drum add their angular colors to the weaving strings, the whole a polyphonic fabric of weirdly symmetrical units and consistently dire fates.
—Gary Lemco

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