Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Recordings

Henry Purcell, Royal Welcome Songs for King Charles II Vol. III: The Sixteen/Harry Christophers

The Sixteen continues its exploration of Henry Purcell’s Welcome Songs for Charles II. As with Robert King’s pioneering Purcell series begun over thirty years ago for Hyperion, Harry Christophers is recording two Welcome Songs per disc.

Anima Rara: Ermonela Jaho

In February this year, Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho made a highly lauded debut recital at Wigmore Hall - a concert which both celebrated Opera Rara’s 50th anniversary and honoured the career of the Italian soprano Rosina Storchio (1872-1945), the star of verismo who created the title roles in Leoncavallo’s La bohème and Zazà, Mascagni’s Lodoletta and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.

Requiem pour les temps futurs: An AI requiem for a post-modern society

Collapsology. Or, perhaps we should use the French word ‘Collapsologie’ because this is a transdisciplinary idea pretty much advocated by a series of French theorists - and apparently, mostly French theorists. It in essence focuses on the imminent collapse of modern society and all its layers - a series of escalating crises on a global scale: environmental, economic, geopolitical, governmental; the list is extensive.

Ádám Fischer’s 1991 MahlerFest Kassel ‘Resurrection’ issued for the first time

Amongst an avalanche of new Mahler recordings appearing at the moment (Das Lied von der Erde seems to be the most favoured, with three) this 1991 Mahler Second from the 2nd Kassel MahlerFest is one of the more interesting releases.

Max Lorenz: Tristan und Isolde, Hamburg 1949

If there is one myth, it seems believed by some people today, that probably needs shattering it is that post-war recordings or performances of Wagner operas were always of exceptional quality. This 1949 Hamburg Tristan und Isolde is one of those recordings - though quite who is to blame for its many problems takes quite some unearthing.

Women's Voices: a sung celebration of six eloquent and confident voices

The voices of six women composers are celebrated by baritone Jeremy Huw Williams and soprano Yunah Lee on this characteristically ambitious and valuable release by Lontano Records Ltd (Lorelt).

Rosa mystica: Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir

As Paul Spicer, conductor of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir, observes, the worship of the Blessed Virgin Mary is as ‘old as Christianity itself’, and programmes devoted to settings of texts which venerate the Virgin Mary are commonplace.

The Prison: Ethel Smyth

Ethel Smyth’s last large-scale work, written in 1930 by the then 72-year-old composer who was increasingly afflicted and depressed by her worsening deafness, was The Prison – a ‘symphony’ for soprano and bass-baritone soloists, chorus and orchestra.

Songs by Sir Hamilton Harty: Kathryn Rudge and Christopher Glynn

‘Hamilton Harty is Irish to the core, but he is not a musical nationalist.’

After Silence: VOCES8

‘After silence, that which comes closest to expressing the inexpressible is music.’ Aldous Huxley’s words have inspired VOCES8’s new disc, After Silence, a ‘double album in four chapters’ which marks the ensemble’s 15th anniversary.

Beethoven's Songs and Folksongs: Bostridge and Pappano

A song-cycle is a narrative, a journey, not necessarily literal or linear, but one which carries performer and listener through time and across an emotional terrain. Through complement and contrast, poetry and music crystallise diverse sentiments and somehow cohere variability into an aesthetic unity.

Flax and Fire: a terrific debut recital-disc from tenor Stuart Jackson

One of the nicest things about being lucky enough to enjoy opera, music and theatre, week in week out, in London’s fringe theatres, music conservatoires, and international concert halls and opera houses, is the opportunity to encounter striking performances by young talented musicians and then watch with pleasure as they fulfil those sparks of promise.

Carlisle Floyd's Prince of Players: a world premiere recording

“It’s forbidden, and where’s the art in that?”

John F. Larchet's Complete Songs and Airs: in conversation with Niall Kinsella

Dublin-born John F. Larchet (1884-1967) might well be described as the father of post-Independence Irish music, given the immense influenced that he had upon Irish musical life during the first half of the 20th century - as a composer, musician, administrator and teacher.

Haddon Hall: 'Sullivan sans Gilbert' does not disappoint thanks to the BBC Concert Orchestra and John Andrews

The English Civil War is raging. The daughter of a Puritan aristocrat has fallen in love with the son of a Royalist supporter of the House of Stuart. Will love triumph over political expediency and religious dogma?

Beethoven’s Choral Symphony and Choral Fantasy from Harmonia Mundi

Beethoven Symphony no 9 (the Choral Symphony) in D minor, Op. 125, and the Choral Fantasy in C minor, Op. 80 with soloist Kristian Bezuidenhout, Pablo Heras-Casado conducting the Freiburger Barockorchester, new from Harmonia Mundi.

Taking Risks with Barbara Hannigan

A Louise Brooks look-a-like, in bobbed black wig and floor-sweeping leather trench-coat, cheeks purple-rouged and eyes shadowed in black, Barbara Hannigan issues taut gestures which elicit fire-cracker punch from the Mahler Chamber Orchestra.

Alfredo Piatti: The Operatic Fantasies (Vol.2) - in conversation with Adrian Bradbury

‘Signor Piatti in a fantasia on themes from Beatrice di Tenda had also his triumph. Difficulties, declared to be insuperable, were vanquished by him with consummate skill and precision. He certainly is amazing, his tone magnificent, and his style excellent. His resources appear to be inexhaustible; and altogether for variety, it is the greatest specimen of violoncello playing that has been heard in this country.’

Those Blue Remembered Hills: Roderick Williams sings Gurney and Howells

Baritone Roderick Williams seems to have been a pretty constant ‘companion’, on my laptop screen and through my stereo speakers, during the past few ‘lock-down’ months.

Bruno Ganz and Kirill Gerstein almost rescue Strauss’s Enoch Arden

Melodramas can be a difficult genre for composers. Before Richard Strauss’s Enoch Arden the concept of the melodrama was its compact size – Weber’s Wolf’s Glen scene in Der Freischütz, Georg Benda’s Ariadne auf Naxos and Medea or even Leonore’s grave scene in Beethoven’s Fidelio.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

Gustav Mahler: Symphony no. 6
21 Mar 2007

MAHLER: Symphony no. 6

Based from concerts given on 22 August, 7 September, and 8 September 2005, this recording of Mahler’s Sixth Symphony is the latest release of the Concertgebouw’s own RCO Live label.

Gustav Mahler: Symphony no. 6

Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Mariss Jansons, Chief Conductor.

RCO CD 06001 [2CDs]

$21.99  Click to buy

A two-CD set with the first three movements on one disc and the Finale on the second, the release includes the world premiere recording of Hans Werner Henze’s Sebastian im Traum: Eine Salzburger Nachtmusik nach einer Dichtung von Georg Trakl (based on performances given on 22 and 23 December 2005). Despite the overt reliance on three of Trakls’ poems and the inclusion of the texts with the recording, it is a creative pairing with Mahler’s Sixth Symphony.

The latter work, Henze’s Sebastian im Traum is a three-movement symphonic work that lasts about fifteen minutes. While the material by Henze included in the liner notes does not quote the composer as making any direct connection with Mahler’s music or, specifically, his Sixth Symphony, it is difficult not to view Henze’s piece as influenced by Mahler’s symphonic style. Sebastian im Traum is an instrumental work stands between the explicit program implied in the texts and the abstract idiom denoted by the tempo markings in the movement titles, and in this sense it resembles the symphonies from which Mahler had withdrawn his programs and that are still discussed in terms of those connotative texts. Existing between those worlds of meaning, Henze’s work benefits from the references found in Trakl’s verse. The three poems suggest a coming to maturity, and awakening suggested by the setting in Spring at the celebration of Easter, and Henze reflects that perspective in the structure of his music. The style of the piece reflects the dissonant idiom Henze used in his other music, but the clearly defined thematic units and control of tension make the piece accessible. The allusion to Salzburg's night music in the subtitle adds a further connotation that brings up association with the lighter orchestral music of Mozart. Notwithstanding those references, the music merits attention on its own merits. In fact, the middle movement, a Scherzo-like piece, is perhaps the most intriguing for the various ideas Henze expresses in it, and its position at the heart of Sebastian suggests its place in the structure of this work. A fine example of new music, it is a work that merits repeated hearings.

Mahler’s Sixth Symphony has received attention in recent years for the lively discussion in various circles about the order of the inner two movements. Eveline Nikkels mentions this in the notes that accompany recording, and it is important to realize that such concern transcends opinion or preference, but speaks directly to the need for a clearer understanding of performance practice with Mahler’s music and a practical knowledge of source materials that can be used in preparing reliable editions for conductors like Mariss Jansons and others to used. Mahler intended to have the Scherzo precede the Andante movement, but changed the order for the premiere. However the first edition reflects his original thought, rather than the way he performed the throughout his lifetime and as found in the revised edition of the score. For various reasons, the critical edition has been problematic in not reflecting this, and only recently has a new edition been planned to reflect this. In the attempts to convey the order of movements that represents Mahler’s intention, it is important, too, to understand the composer’s conception of the work at other levels. In the various revisions that Mahler pursued after the completion of the fair copy, the publication of the music, and the revisions that resulted from the first performances, he attempted to make the written score express the musical thoughts that transcend mere notation. The notation is like the text of a play that talented directors take to the stage to make it come alive for new audiences, and conductors have the same responsibility to create the music anew with each performance. Mahler’s attention to detail should not be construed as obsessive in his pursuit of nuance, but a laudable effort to remove as much doubt as possible so that others can render the score with the musical intensity that the composer wanted.

That stated, Mariss Jansons offers a compelling reading of the first movement, with the driving, marchlike rhythm with which the piece opens not overpowering the thematic material that it underscores. Likewise, Jansons does not overplay the shift from the major to the minor mode melodramatically, and his understatement draws the listener closer to the passage. That effect supports a transition that some conductors force into a more overt separation of ideas. All in all, the lyrical qualities of the movement emerge quite clearly, without appearing out of place. It is reassuring to hear this movement performed with sensitivity not only to the loud and soft portions, but also to the crescendos and diminuendos that are part of the content, especially in the development section in which the interplay of ideas must occur to resolve when the recapitulation occurs. The recording quality is spacious enough to capture details like these that are essential to Mahler’s style and the interpretation of this complex movement.

With the Andante, the recording presents a very forward sound that brings the listener close to the sound. It is not so much loud, as immediate, as if the sound were recorded from the stage rather than the hall. Such an intimate perspective is not without some advantages, as it helps to clarify the details that Jansons brings out. The woodwinds in the first part of the movement are clear, but sometimes the horn sounds seem to overbalance the rest of the ensemble. Again, it may be from the recording technique, which seems to create a vivid sound that sometimes benefits from more distance. Nevertheless, Jansons gives the movement shape and direction, as he masters the entrances that should be anything but jarring. The dynamics levels are, perhaps, more vividly audible in this recording, and they support the structure of the work. Portamento is audible in the strings, and not elided; percussion remains balanced and supportive, with the cowbells prominent when necessary, but never overly so. Jansons captures the atmospheric character of the slow movement, with figuration from Mahler’s Rückert settings drawn out a bit, as if to call attention to the connections between the Lieder and this instrumental movement. Jansons bring the slow movement to a definite climax, and then allows the intensity to subside, audibly shaping the structure as he brings the movement to its conclusion. In giving such emphasis to the slow movement, Jansons brings out the classical form that Mahler used in this Symphony.

The Scherzo that follows – in the order that the composer performed the work and eventually published it – offers a contrastingly jarring mood. The character of the Scherzo offsets the weightier tone of the Andante that precedes it, and in this recording, the rich and full sounds of the slow movement are contrasted by the thinner, less sustained approach that Jansons uses in the Scherzo. The tempos allow the figuration to emerge clearly, and the articulations in the percussion and brass introduce an appropriately pointed character to the piece. As with the Andante, the percussion are clearly placed in Jansons’ sound structures, but never overly loud. As the movement develops, Jansons plays with with the tempos, allowing the thematic content to guide his fluid beat. The Scherzo may not be as driven as other conductors have taken it, and in doing so, Jansons draws out the character of the Scherzo in his interpretation of the movement.

In the Finale Jansons approaches the music with a pacing that gives the impression of being studied. Details become apparent in this interpretation, but the opening of the movement seems atmospheric without necessarily connecting the various theme groups together in the larger structure of the movement. As the movement proceeds, the tempo increases a bit, but the details of supporting lines, accompaniment figures, and various figurations sometimes fade from the balanced vision found in the opening measures. When contrasting sections occur the differences in tempo sometimes make them sound disconnected, rather than integrated in the Rondo-Finale structure that presumes a varied repetition that sets up the movement for its inevitable conclusion.

At some point, though, the question arises about the relationship between the movement order and the interpretation of the work. While the ultimate significance of the Sixth Symphony may not rest on the order of the Andante and Scherzo, the placement of those two movement is meaningful in the context of the perspective they offer each other in the overall structure of the work. Mahler was certainly sensitive to such considerations in other works, since he worked through various plans of movements for the Third Symphony, albeit in terms of finding a place for the song Das himmlische Leben, which he eventually jettisoned and used as the focal point of the Fourth Symphony. Yet even there, the relationship of movements preceding the Song-Finale was critical because of the thematic links that Mahler placed in the slow movement of the Fourth Symphony, and the erstwhile copyist’s error in placing the Scherzo before Das himmlische Leben would have detracted from the increasingly lengthy thematic links to the song. In this regard, the movement order in the Sixth operates at a different plane, but the character of the movements reflects larger structural concerns that Mahler wanted to express when he himself when he conducted the premiere. Such architectural concerns are especially important in live performances, where the dynamic situation in the concert places demands on the conductor to shape the work for the audience in lieu to bringing it to an effective presentation, including a convincing conclusion. With recordings, it can be otherwise, as when Barbirolli’s recording was adjusted for the release, and not as the conductor performed the work. A live performance of the work presumes a tension that is not effective when the movements are treated interchangeably, and this is critical not only for the present work but any music of Mahler or other composers who used similar structural techniques that affect the overall structure.

Yet with this recording, it is important to realize that it is distilled from several concerts. The title “RCO Live” suggests a concert recording, rather and one made in the studio, but when the Concertgebouw uses three performances to create the release suggests a sufficient amount of work in the studio to remove it from the realm of a live concert. Granted the quality of the recording relies on multiple performances, but the label “RCO Live” seems at odds with the efforts involved. That aside, it is difficult to dispute the quality of the recording, which is vibrant and demonstrates the caliber that this Orchestra continues to bring to its performances. Jansons should be commended for his interpretation of this complex score, and his record can stands alongside others. Like other works of commensurate gravity, this is a score that is best understand in the context of several recordings for the nuances various conductors bring to it, and Jansons’ new recording with the Concertgebouw, an ensemble that Mahler knew firsthand in his lifetime, is worthwhile choice to include with other fine performances of this complex work.

James L. Zychowicz

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):