Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Bruno Walter – Mahler’s Fifth and Kindertotenlieder

Since Gustav Mahler was graduating from Vienna Conservatory, he was working with sequence of opera orchestras in Olomouc, Kassel, Leipzig, Prague and Budapest. Every engagement was successful and droves his career to higher positions. Great successes, he achieved as a director of Stadttheater Hamburg and then Hofoper in Vienna, didn’t protect him from attacks of anti-Semitic press. Doubts and accusations had escalated when Mahler begun his work as director of Vienna Philharmonic. Orchestra was displaying discontent of his habit to re-orchestrate well known works. Musicians protested because they had to learn their parts from the beginning. First chosen unanimously, than openly criticized for his artistic decisions, overworked and tired of attacks Mahler resigned off the function. But this decision didn’t help and he was still under attacks as the director of Hofoper. In October 1907 Mahler resigned and after farewell performance of his Second Symphony on November 24th, he left Vienna for New York. One month later 1st day of 1908 Mahler made his New York debut conducting Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde in Metropolitan Opera where he stayed for last three years of his life.
Despite not too much numerous catalogue his works has bad reception during his life and in next decades. Instrumental and structural requirements of his works were usually higher than most symphonic works in his times, so for years he was omitted, played only by few most professional and conscious conductors. Among them were Mahler’s assistants Bruno Walter and Otto Klemperer, as well as some prominent artists – Willem Mengelberg, Leopold Stokowski, and Henry Wood. But still Mahler’s music was not known to wider public. After Nazis recognized Mahler’s music as „degenerate”, it was totally banned in Germany and satellite countries. Rare presentations in Berlin (Symphony No 2) and in Amsterdam under German occupation (Symphonies 1st & 5th) had been performed by Jewish artists and for Jewish audience only.

Bruno Walter - Mahler's Fifth and Kindertotenlieder

Better times for Gustav Mahler’s legacy came after the war. Rediscovery of Mahler’s music was possible amid another thank to the new media and recording techniques. Unparalleled in history of mankind accessibility to the values of the culture changed the way of social understanding and participating. Once recorded, music had been played from gramophone records and radio auditions. But probably it was contemporary music what had served Mahler best. Better understanding the powers of modern symphonic orchestra and the meaning of the sound in formal setting were qualities extremely helpful for Mahler’s listeners. Later to the group of great conductors joined next generation of artists, Pierre Boulez, Claudio Abbado and many others. The better these new renditions were, the more impressive appeared older Bruno Walter’s recordings.
Bruno Walter has center position in history of Mahler’s heritage. In 1894 when Bruno Walter met Gustav Mahler for the first time, he was only 17 years old. Musical and creative personality of sixteen years older Mahler had to make a huge impression on novice conductor. In next years young artist was conducting assistant of the great composer. This fascination and even idolization resists for decades – Bruno Walter became the conductor strongly connected to Mahler’s work. He was spreading his promoter’s music by playing numerous premieres and working on piano transcriptions of Mahler’s compositions. And his recordings of Mahler’s works became one of legends in Twentieth Century recording history. And not only because we can believe Mahler’s himself would have conducted in closest way. Fifth Symphony recorded by Bruno Walter in 1947 has so many shadings and nuances it’s hard to catch simple pattern characteristic for this interpretation.
Highly narrative, dramatic and meaningful Symphony No 5 sounds with inevitable power of sound, but cycle of mourn songs about death of the children Mahler wrote to his own poems in many parts is even more soulfully profound and emotionally pronounced.  Fifth Symphony and legendary recording from 1949 of five song cycle Kindertotenlieder with great Kathleen Ferrier and Wienner Philharmoniker were published together as double LP album issued by Odyssey. It is unbelievable how vividly and transparently sound these recordings after 64 years.

No comments:

Post a Comment