MAHLER: Symphony No. 9 – New York Philharmonic/ Dimitri Mitropoulos – Archipel

by | May 17, 2012 | Classical Reissue Reviews

MAHLER: Symphony No. 9 in D Major – New York Philharmonic/ Dimitri Mitropoulos – Archipel ARPCD 0514, 73:24 [Distr. by Qualiton] ****:
My former teacher and mentor at SUNY Binghamton, Stefan Bauer-Mengelberg, spoke of Dimitri Mitropoulos (1896-1960), whom he had known while serving as an assistant with the New York Philharmonic: “Dimitri could be erratic and not terribly reliable in ‘traditional’ or ‘classical’ scores; but, when he took on Mahler, he could be incandescent. His Mahler Ninth was something extraordinary.” And so, to have the performance of 23 January 1960 as part of the “Archipel Desert Island Collection” does afford us a rare moment of heightened spiritual intensity, a white heat of emotion from both creator and interpreter.
Mitropoulos’ Mahler moves quickly, often with searing intensity. Yet within the first movement Andante comodo we find moody restraint and textural clarity even in the midst of mortal thoughts and existential doubts. The New York audience could be quieter, especially given the “Abschied” character of the movement, often interrupted by convulsive spasm of anguish, if not terror. Mitropoulos always seemed the riskiest of Mahler interpreters, more confrontational than either Walter or Bernstein in addressing the hysteria that permeates Mahler’s otherwise bucolic or blatantly “Viennese” sentiments. The violins play with gripping fervor, and even the harp glissandi emanate a visceral edge. Horn and flute combine for what should be a mountain air, but the tension and melodic line belie any sense of William Wordsworth. And yet Mitropoulos delivers a palpable sense of immanent transcendence, a release from the mortal coil. That Mitropoulos could elicit as tender energies as those savage testifies to the monstrous polarities that inhabited his sympathy for Mahler’s music.
Mahler requests a cantering, unforced Laendler in movement two, but one cannot call Mitropoulos’ reading unhurried; it ripples with pent-up angst. The waltz impulse has more of Berlioz than Vienna, and the rough edges of the woodwinds and bass fiddles only increase the ferocious turbulence of the moment. The swirling figures of the trio, combined with the drooping trope, recall aspects of the G Major Symphony, of which Mitropoulos left us no record. The giddy heights, the drunken gaiety of the rhythmic and color mix, quite engross ear and mind. The aggressive maerchen transcend Schubert and Schumann, acquiring a joyous dementia, one of Zarathustra’s dances in amoral exultation. The imminent chaos and vulgarity of a fallen world continue in the Mitropoulos Rondo-Burleske, maintaining a basic pulse while approaching a manic note of grand mal. Mitropoulos certainly pushes the Philharmonic players to their limits, the brass and strings in perpetual strife. Suddenly, the music breaks off from its agon and spreads a clear sky above us, Caspar David Friedrich’s “Wanderer Above the Sea of Mist.” The turmoil, however, hardly subsides, and Mitropoulos drives the figures hard enough to us to wonder if music itself has not suffered a final crisis.
Mitropoulos takes the final Adagio in 21 minutes, definitely a quick pace which we rarely encounter in contemporary “profound” readings. Even with his relatively brisk pace, Mitropoulos infuses a deep reverence in the music, the sense of Eventide, a Brucknerian hymnody given as a grueling passion-play. The music consciously assumes chamber music dimensions, and we recall what intimacy Mitropoulos could make of the full string complement in Schoenberg’s Verklaerte Nacht. The contrapuntal elements become molten under Mitropoulos in what evolves as a requiem, often making passing, valedictory allusions to Wagner’s Parsifal, another score we should have had with this voluptuous tormented Greek maestro who made Mahler real for an entire generation of musicians and music-lovers
—Gary Lemco

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