About this Recording
8.110152-53 - MAHLER: Symphony No. 2 / Kindertotenlieder (Fried) (1915-1931)
English 

Gustav Mahler (1860-1911 )

Gustav Mahler (1860 - 1911)

Symphony No.2 'Resurrection'

CD 1, Track 13: CD 2, Tracks 1-4)

 

Born in Berlin on 1st August 1871, Oskar Fried exemplified the practical approach to music-making that had sustained the pre-eminence of the art-form in German-speaking countries over the previous century. Serving as a horn-player in Frankfurt's Palmgarten Orchestra from 1889, he soon moved to the Opernhaus and began composition lessons with Wagner's protégé Engelbert Humperdinck. A period as a freelance musician ended with his return to Berlin in 1898, to promote his own music, including, in 1901, a vocal setting of the Richard Dehemel poem Verklarte Nacht that had inspired Schoenberg two years before. In 1904 the cautiously post-Wagnerian tonal language of his cantata Das trunkene Lied found immediate favour. His career as a conductor received a similar boost when, a year later, he conducted Mahler's Second Symphony, the composer commenting that he could not have bettered the Scherzo in particular. Conducting Berlin's Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde from 1907, and the Bluthner-Orchester from 1908, Fried introduced further works of Mahler, as well as music by such contemporary composers as Schoenberg, Delius and Busoni. After 1913 he concentrated exclusively on conducting, where his combination of discipline and technical knowledge of the orchestral apparatus won wide admiration. His socialist and humanitarian convictions came to the fore when, in 1934, he left Germany for Tbilisi, taking over direction at the opera house there, and touring widely in the Soviet Union. He became a Soviet citizen in 1941, shortly before his death.

 

To have recorded Mahler in 1924, before the acoustic process had been superseded by that of electrical recording, was a tough challenge for any recording team, but the Deutsche Grammophon company took the plunge with what, apart from the massive choral Eighth Symphony, was the most lavish of the symphonies. To what, if any, extent the limitations of the process inhibited Fried's approach to the Second Symphony is now impossible to judge, but the expressive freedom with which he controls the music, at the level of localised detail, between movements and across the work's almost 85-minute span, suggests that the personal conception that clearly impressed Mahler almost two decades before is substantially intact in the present recording.

 

Fried sets a fast, incisive initial tempo for the opening Allegro maestoso, though an expressive use of rubato is soon in evidence, and he slackens skilfully for the second subject, opening up its idyllic vista with effortless poise. Some might consider Fried's marked ritardandos at climactic points too interventionist, though the explosive central development is potently handled, an object lesson in controlled spontaneity, despite the inevitable degree of overload in the recorded sound. While the string portarnenti at the reprise of the second subject may be a little mawkish for modem tastes, the funereal recessional that constitutes the coda is powerfully conceived, ominous to a degree that prepares for the settling of conflicts later in the symphony.

 

Fried is clearly at home with the landler strains of the Andante moderato, maintaining continuity of tempo through the agitated episodes (superbly articulated strings here). There can be a thin dividing line between charm and schmaltz at such times in Mahler, and Fried nearly always gets the balance right. The cello counter- melody at the main theme's first reprise is delectably drawn, while the pizzicato strings and harp on its final return interlock with true precision. Love them or hate them, the violin portarnenti just before the close are a period detail worth savouring.

 

The Scherzo sets off at a moderate, lilting pace, giving full rein to its subtle malevolence (what should be the strokes of birch-twigs against bass drum sound uncannily like hand-clapping - perhaps a problem of balance that was otherwise insurmountable back in 1924). The Trio breaks in with duly unwarranted triumph, Fried bringing out the trio-sonata interplay of its continuation, and easy sentiment of its slower section (what sounds like a bell replacing the triangle), though the even steadier pace he adopts for the scherzo's return makes tempo coordination a little approximate.

 

The contralto Emmi Leisner makes a solemn impression in the radiant Urlicht setting, the richness of her lower register perhaps striking an anticipatory likeness to Kathleen Ferrier in the minds of many listeners. The gentle protestations of the second section arouse a heartfelt supplication.

 

From the cataclysmic opening, Fried's conception of the Finale underlines the dramatic and dynamic extremes of this epic movement. He dispatches the initial episodes briskly, allowing atmosphere but little mystery, before the brass chorale emerges with restrained nobility, the climax creating a frisson of emotion. It is difficult after 77 years to appreciate just how difficult the articulation of the wrathful dance-of-death that follows must have been; the Berlin musicians convey the visceral quality of the music, though technical limitations bear witness to a struggle that only a conductor of Fried's experience could have brought off. Whether the 'last judgement' brass are in fact offstage, their placement at the margins of the sonic spectrum gives an impression of space and remoteness, complemented by the liquid tone of the solo flute. Klopstock's Resurrection Ode steals in raptly what sounds like a small but disciplined body of singers. Fried takes his time building to the climax, with such passages as the response between imploring contralto and pacifying soprano, the calmly assured Gertrud Bindernagel, bringing out the music's strongly human motivation. The peroration has none of the disingenuous theatrics that later generations would impose on Mahler's heaven-storming vision. For Fried, it was clearly a matter of conviction - no more and no less.

 

Richard Whitehouse

 

 

Gustav Mahler (1860 - 1911)

Kindertotenlieder

Songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn and Ruckert

CD 1, Tracks 1-12

 

Gustav Mahler's songs are a very special and wonderful addition to the body of German Lieder, often imbued with the shadows of autumn and something of the melancholy implicit in late Brahms or in some of the songs of Richard Strauss, His settings of Ruckert's Kindertotenlieder were written between 1901 and 1904 and later perceived by the composer's wife, Alma Mahler, as tempting Fate, after the subsequent death of one of their own daughters, Friedrich Ruckert wrote the poems, which reflect his own feelings of desolation, after the death of his son Ernst, The first of the songs is Nun will die Sonn' so hell aufgeh'n! (Now will the sun so brightly rise, as if there had been no stroke of unhappiness in the night). The second song, Nun seh'ich wohl, warum so dunkle Flammen (Now I see clearly why so dark flames you turn on me in many a glance, O eyes!) is followed by Wenn dein Mutterlein (When your little mother goes to the door and I turn my head), as the dead child is remembered. Oft denk'ich, sie sind nur ausgegangen! (Often I think you have only gone out and will soon come back home) pursues the same train of thought, leading to the final agitation of In diesem Wetter, in diesem Braus (I should not have sent the children out in this weather, in this tumult).

 

The Kindertotenlieder were first performed in Vienna on 29th January 1905, with the Court Opera baritone Friedrich Weidemann, a singer who was Mahler's preferred interpreter. The singer recorded in 1928 was Heinrich Rehkemper, who had made his operatic debut at Coburg in 1919 and was a member of the Munich Opera from 1925 until 1943. He died in 1949. The Berlin State Opera Orchestra is conducted by the Russian-Austrian Jascha Horenstein, assistant to Furtwangler in Berlin and director of music at the Dusseldorf Opera from 1928 until forced to leave Germany in 1933. Always regarded as a particularly fine interpreter of Mahler, he included the latter's First Symphony in his 1923 debut concert with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra and did much in later years to introduce the music of Mahler to a wider public in England and in the United States, where he settled in 1940. He died in 1973.

 

lch ging mil Lust durch einen grunen Wald (I went with pleasure through a green wood) is taken from the second book of Lieder und Gesange aus der Jugendzeit (Lieder and Songs from the Time of Youth), published in 1892, a setting of words from Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Boy's Magic Horn), the immensely influential collection of seven hundred folk-songs collected by Achim von Arnim and Clemens Brentano and published in 1805 and 1808. It is sung on this recording of 1921 by Grete Stuckgold, who joined the Berlin Staatsoper in 1922, after making her debut three years earlier in Nuremberg. She later settled in America, where she was known for her performances of Wagner and Richard Strauss.

 

The songs that follow are also settings of texts from Des Knaben Wunderhorn. Wer hat dies Liedlein erdacht? (Who has made up this little song?) is the fourth of Mahler's cycle, written in 1892 and first heard in October 1893 in Hamburg in the version with orchestra, when the singer was the Dresden Opera soprano Clementine Schuch-Proska. It was recorded in about 1915 by Grete Stuckgold. The version with piano accompaniment, recorded in 1926, is sung by the distinguished contralto Lieder singer Lula Mysz-Gmeiner, the later teacher of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf at the Berlin Musikhochschule. Born in 1876 at Kronstadt, she studied there, in Vienna, where she made an impression on Brahms, in Berlin and in London, and in Berlin was appointed Kammersangerin. She died in 1948.

 

The next two songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn, Rheinlegendchen (Rhine Legend) and Der Tamboursg'sell (The Drummer Boy), recorded in 1931, are sung by the baritone Heinrich Schlusnus, who had made his operatic debut in Hamburg in 1915 as the Herald in Lohengrin. He appeared at the Berlin Staatsoper from 1917 until 1945, combining a career as a leading Verdi baritone with his distinction as an interpreter of Lieder. The orchestra is conducted by Hermann Weigert, later Wagner solo-repetiteur at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

 

The first of the two songs tells of a gold ring cast into the river, to be swallowed by a fish, served up on the king's table and claimed by his beloved, who will come to him. The song formed part of the Hamburg programme of October 1893, when it was sung by Paul Bulss of the Berlin Opera, who had appeared in a performance of Mendelssohn's oratorio Paulus under Mahler's direction at the Kassel Festival of 1885. Der Tamboursg'sell, with its tragic tale of the drummer boy captured and condemned to death, was written in 1901 and first heard at a concert in Vienna in January 1905, on the same occasion as the Kindertotenlieder, with the baritone Friedrich Weidemann.

 

From the further Ruckert settings of 1901 comes Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen (I am lost to the world), first performed at the same Vienna concert in 1905. This song of resignation was recorded in 1930 with the American-born contralto Sarah Charles-Cahier, a pupil of Jean de Reszke in Paris, Gustav Walter in Vienna and Amalie Joachim, the wife of the violinist Joseph Joachim, in Berlin. She made her operatic debut in Nice in 1904, at the age of 24, and in 1907, after appearances there the previous year, was engaged by Mahler for the Vienna Court Opera, where she continued until 1911. In that year she sang in the posthumous first performance of Das Lied von der Erde, under Bruno Walter, and in 1912 made her debut at the New York Metropolitan Opera. She died in 1951. It is of particular interest to hear, even in her old age, a singer who had worked with Mahler himself, both in the Ruckert song and in the fourth movement of the Resurrection Symphony, a setting of Urlicht (Primal Light) from Des Knaben Wunderhorn, a longing for God and Heaven. The symphony was first performed in its complete form in Berlin in December 1895, when Urlicht was sung by Hedwig Felden. The conductor for the present recording, Selmar Meyrowitz, was employed at the short-lived Berlin Komische Oper of 1905 and later served as a house conductor for the record company Ultraphon. He died in 1941.

 

Keith Anderson

 


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