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5 Stars for artistry, 3 stars for value even at its modest cost-but a must for Mahler scholars!,
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This review is from: Mahler: Totenfeier Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Audio CD)
Whereas the large orchestral work in the form of a symphony Mahler christened "Titan" (NO "Der") is radically different from Mahler's revised version that we know as the First Symphony (which should NOT be entitled Titan even if Blumine is included), and warrants inclusion in its own right in the collection of any ardent admirer of Mahler's music, the 1888 tone poem "Totenfeier" (Funeral Rites) which became the first movement of the Second Symphony was not so heavily revised, and most collectors will have acquired it as an add-on or a filler to other works if they have acquired it at all!
Mahler conceived it originally as depicting the funeral of the eponymous hero of "Titan", and even considered incorporating into the revised First Symphony, but its music fits perfectly into Mahler's depiction of the Resurrection. Whereas most will know the piece in this context, no conductor has yet had the temerity to record the Second Symphony with HIP forces (or rather HAP as we must designate them apparently-"Historically Aware Practices"), so this recording has the field to itself and may thus have wide appeal.
The musicological argument for performing the work in this manner is tenuous-by the late 1880s all the main orchestras were utilising modern string and brass instruments. However, the strings were gut, the brass instruments though valved were narrow bore, woodwind were just that-made of wood!-and timps were of the closed kettle-drum type played with small headed "hammers" and delivering a "thwack" rather than a resounding boom. In addition, smaller provincial orchestras such as in the Austrian town of Laibach (now Ljubljana in Slovenia) where Mahler held his first conducting post frequently had a mixture of modern and outdated instruments which made tuning and playing together doubly difficult, all of which combines to mean that it probably would have sounded nearer to the performance recorded here than in recordings by the RCO and CSO if it been performed at the time of its composition. However, it was only rediscovered in the 1980s, so even that argument becomes stretched!
Vladimir Jurowski, in an interview before the 2011 concerts from which the recording is made, when asked for his justification for using HAP forces was disarmingly honest in his reply stating that there was no particular justification-he was just curious to hear what it sounded like!
Now, I'm no fan of HIP/HAP practice when applied to Romantic works, especially ones as late as this.
Attempts by Norrington in particular have filled me with horror, and an ill-conceived notion by Herreweghe to record Bruckner 7 still rankles as a monumental waste of time and resources.
Utilising a band such as the OAE herein brings interpretation strictures that override artistic sensibility by the very nature of the instruments-no vibrato, different pitch, no sustained chords etc. and so despite Maestro Jurowski's formidable reputation built up during his tenure with the LPO and as Music Director of Glyndebourne, I was sceptical and fascinated in equal measure.
The results are certainly startling in the Totenfeier at least. There is an immediate awareness of a lack of weight in the sound, certainly as compared to its incarnation in the second symphony.
This is offset by a wiry transparency that is in fact very appealing, and the piece launches at a pace and with a staccato rhythm that one does not expect, even from Boulez in his CSO recording.
In fact, Jurowski manages to extract some vibrato from his period strings, and his breakneck pace throughout, peppered with effective use of rubato transforms the piece from a solemn funeral procession punctuated by grief into a sort of "Dance Macabre".
The playing of this accomplished orchestra can be taken for granted-it is flawless with none of the pitch problems and cracks from the brass which used to permeate HIP performances. The recording in the improved acoustics of London's RFH is excellent as is usually the case with Signum Classics.
I like it enormously, and in this guise it certainly justifies its existence as a stand alone work.
The Lieder Eines Fahrenden Gesellen shares musical content with Waldmarchen from Das Klagende Lied and the First Symphony, and is Mahler's earliest song cycle, the first derived from the Des Knaben Wunderhorn collection of poems so makes a fitting contemporary makeweight.
Only the Ruckert Lieder is a shorter collection-usually-and the marginally swifter than usual tempi employed by Jurowski make it pass in a very short time. Sarah Connolly, who is ubiquitous at the moment, gives a very accomplished reading, her fine mezzo voice being ideally suited to these works, but the overall effect is less unique and less distinguished than for the orchestral work, and it is for that work for which I mainly return to this recording.
I must warn that is VERY poor value at 38 mins playing time, even at budget-price, and so notwithstanding the excellence of the recording and performance, I can only give a cautious recommendation other than to " Must have at all costs Mahler nuts"-we know who we are!
5 Stars for artistry-3 Stars for value-4 stars in sum but highly recommended. Stewart Crowe.