Saturday, May 14, 2011

Bruno Walter – Gustav Mahler – Symphony No 2

Gustav Mahler is probably most important composer connecting separate worlds of romanticism and modernism, nineteenth century irrational trust in development and progress and twentieth century blend of pessimism and exalted emotionalism. His creative output was almost exclusively delimited to symphonic works and songs cycles. Exceptions in most cases are a student works, among them one opera and very few piano compositions. These compositions are predominantly lost even if some of them resist as a parts of symphonies or song cycles. Some of his early works composer later revised and included into new projects. Mahler’s major activity was conducting. For orchestras he led he was constantly rescoring historic compositions, and this can explain why list of his mature compositions is so short.
Symphony No. 2 in C Minor called „Resurrection” is undoubtedly one of highly valued Mahler’s masterworks. Since it’s premiere in 1895 it was recognizable and esteemed as a masterpiece of postromantic symphonic form. Five movements of this symphony were set with philosophic program, which Mahler confided to his friends. First movement based on Mahler’s earlier symphonic poem Totenfeier represents funeral rites and express query of life after death. There are still a lots of doubts about formal and constructive ideas or about composer’s intentions of the first movement. Second part, illustrative slow landler with two contrastive episodes, represents remembrance of past life. First two movements of Second Symphony are focused on past live.

Mahler's 2nd Symphony by Bruno Walter

Third movement opens totally new perspective of musical vision. First two movements are cancelled. Anything keeping us bounded with this life occurs false value. Foundation for biting sarcasm of third movement is satirical song from Des Knaben Wunderhorn cycle – Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt. The scherzo-like movement is designated by composer as In ruhig fliessender Bewegung but it has not much to do with joking spirit of scherzos. Its naïve serenity from bright enthusiasm turns into dark and depressive consciousness of defeat, like it was trying to convince listener that even under the mockery hides the nonsense of the world. The solution comes in fourth movement for which Mahler included the song „Urlicht” (Primeval Light) from Des Knaben Wunderhorn, which is straight confession of faith in redemption from God. Final movement comes as hymn in choral and orchestral setting. There are some construction analogies with Finale from Beethoven’s Ninth. Poetic text of this is poem Die Auferstehung by Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock to which Mahler wrote alternative closing.
This work is extremely hard for interpretation and life performing. This is confirming by notable differences between various renditions. Recording of this work occurs even more difficult. Among few good records especially one is extraordinary. It is 1957 stereo recording made under baton of Bruno Walter for Columbia with New York Philharmonic, Emilia Cundari, Maureen Forrester and Westminster Choir directed by John Finley Williamson. Conductor of this performance was Mahler’s assistant so it is easy to believe his interpretation is as much close to composer’s intentions as it is possible. And perfect sound he achieved is so transparent, it makes polyphonic structures readable and clear. After more than half of the century this recording is still fresh and powerful vision of Mahler’s Second.

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