Mstation Classical Reviews

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Thu, 01 Dec 2005

Mahler, Berg

Gustav Mahler - Symphony No.4 
Berg - Sieben Fruehe Lieder (Seven Early Songs)
CD, Deutsche Grammophon

Berliner Philharmoniker
Claudio Abbado - conductor 
Renee Fleming - soprano solo
Guy Braunstein violin solo
(Recorded live in Berlin)
"The Symphony is the world! The Symphony must embrace everything!" (Gustav Mahler)

Gustav Mahler (1860 - 1911) was best known as one of the foremost conductors of his age during his lifetime. Today he is also remembered as one of the most important composers bridging the transition from romantic music in the nineteenth century to the music of the twentieth century, going on to inspire such composers as Shoenberg, Berg, Webern of the second Viennese school, as well as Shostakovich. He was born in Kaliste, Bohemia,into a Jewish family, but in 1897 decided to convert to Catholicism. This was due to the anti-semitism, rife in Vienna at the time, which had prevented him from receiving the post of conductor at the Vienna Court Opera. He was to work there for the next ten years, conducting for 9 months of the year in Vienna, then retreating to his small house in Woerthersee in Maiernigg. It was there that he composed many of his symphonies, including the fourth symphony on this recording (which was composed between 1899 and 1901, premiered in November 1901). The deaths of his parents, sister and suicide of his brother around this time led to an almost unhealthy preoccupation with death and had an obvious effect on his music (this type of tragedy seemed to become a trend throughout his lifetime). In 1902 he married the beautiful but difficult Alma Schindler who went on to become famous in her own right, (mainly for the various surnames she collected through marriage after Mahler's death!). His influences include Johann Sebastian Bach and those composers of the early Viennese School (Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven and Schubert). He was also influenced by romantic nineteenth century composers such as Schumann, Mendelssohn and most importantly perhaps, Wagner. His earlier symphonies, including the fourth are dominated by "Des Knaben Wunderhorn" poems and often quote melodies from his own settings of these poems. He was deeply spiritual and had a profound respect for Nature, which is frequently reflected in his music. The fourth symphony seems to contain all of these elements, and is also remarkable for opening in B minor, being mainly in G major then ending in the "heavenly" key of E major with a solo soprano part with "Wir geniessen die himmlischen Freuden" (We enjoy Heaven's delights) from "Des Knaben Wunderhorn."

Alban Berg (1885 - 1935), a Viennese composer, had a deep respect and admiration for Mahler. He began his formal music training with the founder of twelve-tone music, Schoenberg. However, his "Sieben Fruehe Lieder," composed between 1905-1908, revised and orchestrated in 1928, does not show signs of the radical atonality and ciphers that he was to use in his later compositions, such as his second opera, "Lulu". The influence of Mahler is shown, not only in the rich romanticism of these songs, but also in the idea of using different orchestration for each of the songs, contributing to the structure of the composition.

As one would expect from a live recording with a combination of such highly distinguished artists as the Berlin Philharmoniker and Renee Fleming with the legendary Claudio Abbaudo, the recording, in my opinion at least, is brilliant. The orchestra is sensitive, and yet never afraid to create the more plucky, rustic and at times, parodic sounds of Austrian music, such as the "Laendler" in contrast to the light Viennese style, or indeed creating the volatile, brooding and threatening side (most likely due to Mahler's nearly unhealthy obsession with death), present throughout the symphony. The rich variety of orchestral sounds also show off Mahler's expert orchestration to great effect. Guy Braunstein's violin solo in the scherzo captured the wonderfully sarcastic nature of this movement. Finishing with Berg's songs, so clearly inspired by Mahler, compliments the programme extremely well. (M. North)

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