Sunday, 24 August 2008

Prom 48 Mahler 5 Gürzenich

This Prom was supposed to replicate the premiere of Mahler's Fifth Symphony on October 18th 1904 using the same orchestra, the Gürzenich of Cologne and the same programme (with updates). This is a pic of the front page of the original booklet. The critics of 1904 hated the piece. "The train of thought is as incomprehensible as the style is enigmatic" said one, while another praised the audience for hissing at the "shadowy labyrinths" of Mahler's mind. Another said "Mahler now stands alone as an enemy of culture". Whatever the purpose of this replica Prom, it shows that even firm favourites like Mahler 5 were once derided for "dissonances and dreadful oddities".

But one review, in Munich, was more analytical. "The bizarre should never deter one when judging a work : look at Berlioz", he said. ""What people consider to be disconcerting is for me the composer's most delightful characteristic". ..."only a thorough study of the score could give an exact idea of the ....eminent refinement of the orchestration". Pretty perceptive for a first hearing, since current performance practice emphasises the intricate detail. Mahler was quite specific about it being
Kammermusikton, chamber music sound, where small units function distinctly and interlock to create the whole. Markus Stenz has done his homework. This performance showed how valuable it is to "listen" to what a composer is trying to say, rather than jazz things up to wow the crowds. Earlier this year I heard Philippe Jordan conduct Mahler 5 after a Mozart piano concerto. Bingo ! The combination showed how Mozart and Mahler, in their own ways composed with intelligence and clarity, adventure and subtlety. If you don't know why I dislike Dudamel's "style" listen to his recording of this symphony. Or better not....

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