Regional Editor:Bill Kenny
Seen and Heard
Mahler, ‘Resurrection’ Symphony:Sally
Matthews (Soprano), Karen Cargill (Mezzo), Various Choruses,
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Gilbert Kaplan (Conductor), Royal
Albert Hall, 18.10.2005 (JPr)
just a matter of life and death – it’s more important than that!’
I always submit should have been said by Woody Allen but – of
course – is about football. However,
this just about sums up Mahler’s great exploration into the meaning
of human existence that is Mahler’s Second Symphony known to one
and all as the ‘Resurrection’ Symphony.
Not too long ago a performance of the Second Symphony in London
had an intriguing post-performance epilogue when up popped the
British Mahler Society to make its presence felt in the Letters
page of The Times newspaper. A review (by Richard Morrison) of
this London Symphony Orchestra concert in that newspaper had commented
that after the first movement the conductor had ‘left the platform,
the orchestra retuned, the audience chattered, and far too long
passed before he returned with the soloists’. It was the GMS UK’s
membership secretary, Neil Rhind MBE,
who subsequently informed readers of The Times that ‘Indeed
Gustav Mahler did specify a five minute pause between the two
blocks of his “Resurrection”
Symphony. He also specified that the audience should keep quiet
and that there should be no unnecessary noise or disturbance to
interrupt solemn contemplation. The late Sir John Barbirolli
shushed both chatterers and those who attempted to applaud the
entrance of the soloists during the pause’.
Is Mahler’s Second Symphony
meant to be a quasi, or even real religious experience? The answer
is no, of course not. Sometimes though it can get mighty close
to one as
Arnold Schoenberg once wrote:
‘The first time I heard Mahler’s Second Symphony I was seized,
especially in certain passages, with an excitement which expressed
itself even physically, in the violent throbbing of my heart.
And I was overwhelmed, completely overwhelmed’.
Mahler generally, I believed,
abhorred giving his music a ‘programme’ … a case of the expressible
attempting to explain the existential … however we can consider
the five movements as follows: Movement 1 (Allegro maestoso) contains
that is dominated by a funeral march as our ‘hero’ (Mahler himself
since he was the very same ‘hero’ of his own 1888 First Symphony)
is taken to his grave and his life, all he wished for himself
and planned for, is re-evaluated. Movements
2 (Andante moderato) and 3 emphasise
life’s trivialities and bring us reminiscences
from our hero’s past – highlighting the good times expressed in
the Ländler dance rhythms of the second that are overtaken by
a symphonic Scherzo in the third to depict the futility and ups-and-downs
of life in a grotesque, cynical waltz based on musical material
from the Wunderhorn song ‘St Anthony’s
Sermon to the Fishes’.
the closing two movements there is a reconciliation effected between
Man and God so that any despair at the pointlessness of existence
is countered by the hope of salvation.
‘I am from God, and would go back to God!’ begins
with the entry of the simple ‘chorale’, ‘Urlicht’ (‘Primal Light’
- another Wunderhorn song), which
the solo mezzo-soprano
sings as a voice of simple faith ushering in the fourth movement.
This is just a moment of music drama that acts as a prelude to
the finale. We have
come at last to the Final Judgement – ‘The earth quakes, graves
burst open, the dead arise’. Distant brass, ominous drum rolls,
melodramatic penultimate and Last Trumps; surge forward and gain
in intensity towards the cataclysmic final chorale.
Time definitely seems to stand still and then ‘the last trump
sounds again’, the soprano introduces warmth and humanity into
the proceeding joining the chorus after their breathtaking ppp
entry of ‘Aufersteh’n’ (‘Rise again’).
This is basically Klopstock’s Resurrection
chorale but in fact only the first section of the text is Klopstock’s
since Mahler added a number of lines of his own. It all ends with
the utterance ‘I shall die in order to live!’ which was a chilling
prediction of Mahler’s own fate as an artist!
In the finale the chorus’s pianissimo first entry is truly thrilling. There is the mezzo-soprano’s final solo (‘O glaube,
o glaube’ – ‘Believe, my heart, o
believe!’) and then soloists and chorus unite as the symphony
is brought to a gloriously joyful and valedictory conclusion.
The final overwhelming ‘message’
of Mahler’s symphonic testament is that no matter who your ‘God’
may be, no one should fear his or her own ‘Day of Judgement’ to
About two years ago, a full
page in the programme at the Royal Festival Hall for Gilbert Kaplan’s
last London concert announced the recent ‘première’ recording
by Deutsche Grammophon of ‘the new
official score’ of Mahler’s Second Symphony with the same conductor
and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. Literature was available
on the night from the music publishers (Universal Edition) and
The Kaplan Foundation about ‘this new release … (and) ... new
performance material on the night.’ Kaplan, of course, was conducting
the Philharmonia, he was signing
copies of the CD release after the performance, interviews had
been published in the national press, he gave an enlightening
pre-concert lecture about Mahler, he had written an informative
programme note – but nowhere – no where – in what could be read
‘on the night’ was there anything to make anyone expect they were
not hearing that new version. There was a full house present with
a considerable number definitely also under this similar misapprehension.
It transpired that it was the ‘regular’ version of the Resurrection
Symphony (albeit with a few tweaks) that had been being played.
The inability to obtain the required orchestral parts was cited
but was hardly credible. In fact Seen &
editor (Marc Bridle) was one of the few to be let into this ‘secret’
because in an interview with Gilbert Kaplan prior to this event
the conductor revealed the concert with the Philharmonia
was not to be the new edition because ‘The recording with the
Vienna Philharmonic was made by entering about 500 corrections
into their parts, and it’s the feeling … that the first live performance
should be with printed parts.’ It was clear that DG had made the
best of its marketing opportunity.
So about two years later on 18 October we were now at the Royal
Albert Hall with Gilbert Kaplan, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
and presumably ‘printed parts’ for positively the ‘World Première
Performance of the Revised Critical Edition‘ and DG was on show
once again with a signing session by the conductor at the end
of the concert.
Having described the background to the Symphony and this concert
I cannot unfortunately give an academic discourse on the changes
in the music. There are really no new melodies here and as the
programme says it just involves ‘wrong notes, omitted notes, notes
mistakenly assigned to the wrong instrument, wrong tempo indications,
inaccurate dynamics, missing accents, misplaced crescendos and
diminuendos, and confusing instructions’. These cover some 41
pages of a report that often has 20 or more comments per page.
Kaplan and his co-editor Renate Stark-Voit
consulted 14 original sources and Mahler’s own score ‘reworked’
until 1910, within a year of his premature death.
What of the concert you ask? — What
we heard played by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra should have
been the way Mahler wanted us to hear it after more than 20 years
fine-tuning the score. However, this was undermined by Kaplan’s
adherence to a fairly inflexible plodding tempo, a certain imbalance
in the orchestral sound (at least from the Stalls) between a more
vibrant brass and woodwind compared to duller strings. (There
was also a strange right-sided bias to his conducting as he rarely
seemed to turn towards his violins.) Worst of all was a sloppiness
of ensemble at times and a woeful brass entry from on high in
the final movement, as well as, other occasional shaky notes (Mahler
would not have countenanced in any version of his score) in both
the brass and woodwind on stage throughout the evening.
So despite the painstaking approach to producing this Revised
Critical Edition there obviously had been a lack of rehearsal,
or too many inexperienced orchestral players were making up the
ranks of the 115 involved in the concert.
The first three movements were rather sterile, episodic and lacked
musical fluidity but hopes that it all would be ‘redeemed’ came
with that entry of the human voice and ‘Urlicht’, strongly sung
by Karen Cargill. Alas there really was to be no ‘salvation’ for
the audience despite the magnificent sound generated by four choirs
(Philharmonia Chorus, Crouch End,
Brighton and Southend Festival Choruses)
along with the expansive interjections of soprano Sally Matthews.
As I wrote in my review of the Royal Festival Hall Kaplan concert
– ‘the entire Finale
was tremendously exciting particularly since Kaplan had the Chutzpah
to leave the 450 strong choirs seated until they rose dramatically
for their final ‘Auferstehn’ but,
realistically, that was more due to Mahler than the conductor’
– I find no reason to change this view.
I assume other orchestras
will adopt this officially sanctioned score and we will hear it
soon better performed under a (dare I say it?) better conductor.
Do not doubt my admiration for everything Gilbert Kaplan has achieved
in life for himself and Mahler but he is a bit obsessed (there
is no other word) with this work and thinks he has come as close
as possible to the way Mahler would have wanted it heard and would,
no doubt, have conducted it, or so he thinks.
Mahler probably made changes to this Second Symphony over, and
between, the 10 times he conducted it in public. That was how
he thought it should sound at that time but who knows where later
revisions (had the composer lived longer) would have taken this
symphony. (Wagner died still believing he owed the world his Tannhäuser,
a work he had originally composed nearly 40 years earlier and
he was still not happy with.) Kaplan undermined this project when
he said that Mahler wanted every performance he gave to be special
and like a festival event. So for me what he tried to do was like
the restoration of an Old Master painting from a dirty cracked
and timeworn original. Yes, it had very bright colours and lines,
it was all clean and tidy but some detail has undoubtedly been
lost and an idea of a masterpiece with the accretion of the ages
arriving in a direct line for reinterpretation had also been lost.
If you recreate something is that truly ‘Art’? No matter how steeped
Kaplan is in the work, it remained just a fine facsimile and not
And to show evidence of Gilbert Kaplan’s total submission to Mahler’s
instructions we had that 5-minute pause I mentioned earlier …
and what happened? Well poor stage management resulted in unwelcome
applause for conductor and soloists that, with the almost obligatory
earlier coughing, shattered the concentration built up by the
duality of ‘Sunshine and Clouds’ in the first movement the conductor
talked so much about. Mahler possibly would not have been pleased
– and in a simple grave in Grinzing,
a suburb of Vienna, a spinning sound might have been heard.
© Dr Jim Pritchard
Back to the Top
Back to the Index Page
Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor),
Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines,
Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling,
Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen,
Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara,
Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard,
John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman,
Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)