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P Stumpf
# Posted: 13 May 2009 04:09

Boulez led a strong performance of this sometimes raucous work - sometimes a little wild, other times rather cool and dispassionate (especially the Andante). Scherzo-Andante order was followed; two hammer blows in the last movement. This difficult symphony is, personally, my least favorite Mahler - and I don't feel qualified to comment beyond this.

William Zucker
# Posted: 13 May 2009 09:22

Paul, I did not hear this performance, but I still can comment.

For me, the order of Scherzo-Andante and the two hammer blows in the last movement is for me the correct way musically to present this work.
The other order makes no sense musically and the third blow seems to
not belong (as Sybille very correctly pointed out) unless one performs it
with five hammer blows - the two additional ones being at the beginning
of the movement and of the recapitulation (of course coincidental with the major/minor motto) as Henri-Louis has pointed out as having been originally the case (mentioned in his third volume).

The Andante for me is a rather cool and dispassionate movement, unlike
those in say the Third and Fourth Sympbhonies and perhaps elsewhere as well; very much in control at all times and even as a consequence better constructed than those examples, but that has nothing at all to do with what you may think of the various works or even their relative merit (of necessity, objective; we all listen differently and hear these things differently).

I have heard of many non-initiates into Mahler being put off by this work. It is hardly a favorite of mine, and I do not as a rule go out of my way to hear it, but I do recognize its mastery of workmanship and am never bored when listening to it (No. 9 is the one that gives me the most trouble, the first movement especially).

This work is much more straightforward in its manner than either of its neighbors and presents far fewer interpretive problems. Consequently, there is less that a conductor could do to ruin or disturb it for me in any way. Again, this has nothing to do with what I think of the work or any objective merit that the work may or may not have, as already stated.

I have never heard one very much into Mahler state openly that it was a least favorite, but I can ascertain that it is a personal reaction to the music and I do respect that. After all, how many others would place Nos. 7 and 8 at the top of their list or No. 9 at the bottom, as I do, but that too is a personal reaction.

Regarding the order of the movements, I did on your suggestion look at the piece by Henri-Louis in the Appendix of his fourth volume, and feel that all his points appear to be well taken, regardless of what sort of scholarship went into Jerry Bruck's findings. I think that most of us will instinctively recognize that the Scherzo-Andante order is the only correct way to present the work. Henri-Louis goes on to refer to the Beethoven Op. 130 String Quartet, as performed with the Grosse Fuge as opposed to the Finale that the work ultimately remained with. I am not ready to say that this is a parallel situation, as I do not think that Beethoven's state of mind when he made the change can be compared to that of Mahler. The work seems infinitely better to me with the Finale as Beethoven left it compared with the Grosse Fuge that overbalances the rest of the work, and Beethoven was level-headed enough to see this for himself - he could be stubborn enough in these situations to refuse to take advice from his publishers. Those groups such as the Juilliard Quartet who continue to performk it with the Grosse Fuge as the conclusion do so in my opinion on very wrong-headed grounds. Wre are nto dealing with the same situation in this Mahler work.

Robert Comeau
# Posted: 14 May 2009 13:22

This was certainly an interesting and exciting performance, and a perfectly pleasant evening at Carnegie Hall, however, what was missing is the notion that this is not an inherently pleasant symphony. Boulez certainly had the "head" parts right - control of the orchestra, even at rather fast tempos, but he missed the "heart." This is a work that shakes one over the abyss, whatever one's personal abyss is, and tears the moorings from one's certainties about music, art, philosophy, etc. - rather ironic in that this is Mahler's most "classical" symphony. I have heard Boulez, one of our greatest "modern" conductors, and one of the least romantic, conduct this, probably my favorite Mahler symphony, before, and was not at all surprised by the result.

There was no sweep in the "Alma" theme in the first movement, an important contrast to the inexorable and disturbing marching in the first subject. The scherzo was second, properly, I think, and seemed menacing enough, but the trio section was not well enough delineated, sharing this problem with the first movement. The andante was too fast, and, again, without sweep and ardent passion. Tempi in the finale were too fast, as well, robbing the work of its quality of a spring slowly being wound into an explosion. The orchestra played well, if not breathlessly, given the quick tempi. I noticed some raggedness in spots, but not enough to mar the overall effect, which was more exciting than this symphony ought to be. The hammerblows were quite stunning, but, alas, only two - and I am one of those who thinks that three is the right number. When it is there, the third is the one that sends you home on a slab, rather than walking upright. If you can applaud immediately after that last pizzicato, the performance didn't work. Interestingly, when you can applaud immediately, you don't really want to.

This was the one concert in this Mahler-fest I attended. I have been tepid about the series all along, since neither Barenboim or Boulez are, in my view, great, or even interesting, Mahler conductors. I look forward to next season, when Carnegie doesn't put all its Mahler eggs into one two week basket, and we get to hear Jansons conduct the 3rd and Tilson Thomas conduct the 2nd. These are two of the better Mahler conductors working today, and both work with fine Mahler orchestras. I look forward to Alan Gilbert's M3 in September as well.

William Zucker
# Posted: 14 May 2009 15:29

Bob, I essentially agree with most of what you're saying. Certainly the fast tempi, as you describe it - I didn't hear this particular performance - would rob the music of a good deal. It is a trend of now a days, and much other music is being robbed of its essence as well from such treatment.

I've heard MTT in many of tbhese works and am not excited about him either. As for Janssons, I find him quirky; interesting perhaps, but not, I think, the ideal man for these works.

If you will have attended only the one concert, I will say that frankly, you are not missing very much, although some of the vocasl contributions, by Michelle De Young, Thomas Hampson, Thomas Quasthoff, Dorothea Roschmann, were quite stunning, and in themselves worth the concerts they appeared in.

I disagree about the third hammerblow - let's agree to disagree. The blow is in the music itself, which does not need any underlining at that point to explain the purport of what is going on, quite unlike the situation with the first two. Mahler deleted this last one, as he deleted those two from the other situations I mentioned, and they are not really required in any of tbhose three parallel passages.

By the way, I did attend Alan Gilbert's performance of No. 1 last Saturday, and found it quite a bit better than the Barenboim affair. I posted it already, though it appears on one of the other forums for some reason, and not on this page. I wouldn't call it ideal either, but still commendable enoguh to warrant watching Gilbert's future undertakings with these works.

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