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Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Kindertotenlieder* [24í39"]
Adagio from Symphony No 10** [22í14"]
Anton WEBERN (1883-1945)

Passacaglia, Op. 1*** [10í56"]
"Im sommerwind"**** [13í14"]
*Cornelia Kallisch (mezzo-soprano)
SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg/Michael Gielen
Recorded: *Hans Rosbaud-Studio, Baden-Baden, 25-26 June 1998; ** Hans Rosbaud-Studio, Baden-Baden, 16-17 November 1989; *** Hans Rosbaud-Studio, Baden-Baden, 12-14 November 1992; ****Konzerthaus, Freiburg, 3 September 1998 DDD
HÄNSSLER CLASSIC CD 93.062 [71í30"]
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Michael Gielenís Mahler cycle for Hänssler has been emerging gradually but this is the first of them that Iíve heard. Having listened to this CD I have two regrets. One is that I havenít encountered Gielenís clear-eyed, objective Mahler before on disc. The second is that, like several other distinguished Mahler conductors, including Abbado, Bernstein, Haitink and Tennstedt he has elected not to include Deryck Cookeís performing edition of the score that Mahler left on his death. Iím sure he would have given us an interesting, if provocative account of Cookeís realization of Mahlerís sketch.

For a full and highly informed discussion of the genesis of Cookeís performing version and a review of most of the available recordings I refer readers to Tony Dugganís monograph on the Tenth Symphony in his survey of each Mahler symphony. I fully agree with him that Simon Rattle sweeps the board in this work (and, as Tony states, Rattleís 1980 performance with the Bournemouth Symphony is by no means put in the shade by his 1999 re-make with the Berlin Philharmonic). Itís instructive to note that Rattle took 23í54 for the adagio first movement in 1980 and by 1999 (in a live account) this had stretched to 25í11". Gielenís much less expansive reading is "lean beef" Mahler by comparison. The clue lies in his pacing of the adagio elements in the movement where Rattle is daringly (and thrillingly) spacious. The movement opens with a long theme played in unison by the viola section without accompaniment. Itís a spare, searching theme, pregnant with possibilities. In Rattleís 1999 performance it is 1í23" before we reach the point where any other instruments enter. Gielen reaches the same point in 1í05", a modest difference, perhaps, but an indicative one, I think.

I think the clue to Gielenís approach can be found in a short comment of his thatís included in the notes. He notes that Mahler integrates into this movement two distinct elements, those of adagio and andante. Gielen views the andante as a danse macabre, a kind of scherzo, and thatís how he plays those (substantial) sections of the movement. So, when one takes account not only of a brisker approach than Rattle to the slower music but also his danse macabre view of the brisker music (which Rattle also does superbly, with great pungency and irony) itís not to be wondered at that Gielenís overall performance is comparatively swift. Interestingly, heís not alone in this approach. In May 1966 Jean Martinon gave a performance of the full Cooke score with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (the scoreís Chicago première) and he too is brisk in this opening movement, dispatching it in just 20í55". That performance is included in the CSOís illuminating "First 100 Years" set of CDs.

The word I think Iíd use to describe Gielenís performance of this Mahler movement is "bracing". I still think that Rattle digs far deeper under the surface and finds rather more in the music as a result. However, Gielenís reading is objective, disciplined and, in its own terms, well conceived. As I indicated earlier, I do wish he had recorded the full Cooke version (the documentation contains no clue as to why he opted to avoid Cooke). I suspect that had he done so my allegiance to Rattle would have remained unshaken but Gielenís is a provocative and valid alternative slant. Like Boulez, you may not warm to what he does with the music but you cannot but respect the artistic integrity.

Gielenís Mahler cycle has been notable for the interesting "fillers" included on his CDs. The choice of repertoire has been challenging and has, I suspect, said a lot about Gielenís view of Mahler as the pivotal figure between nineteenth and twentieth century music. On this CD we hear two pieces by Webern that complement the late Mahler work in a very apposite way. The idyll for orchestra, Im Sommerwind was composed in 1904 but was then withdrawn by the composer and it was not until 1962 that it was first performed, under Eugene Ormandy. Coincidentally, Ormandyís première recording of the piece, made just a few months later, has just resurfaced in the volume of EMIís Great Conductors of the Twentieth Century series devoted to Ormandy (so far as I know these two recordings are the only ones currently available). Gielen gives a splendid account of the work. Though relatively short in duration it is a large piece, scored for a substantial orchestra and it inhabits the same tonal world as the early orchestral works of Schoenberg, with whom Webern was shortly to study. It has a febrile, intense, hothouse atmosphere and a successful performance needs to capture that atmosphere whilst retaining clarity of texture. Gielen is superbly well equipped to achieve this and he does. His view of the piece is rather leaner and sparer than the more opulent performance of Ormandy. Ormandyís pioneering account still has much to commend it but I think Gielenís recording just has the edge.

Four years later, at the conclusion of his studies with Schoenberg, Webern penned the work he was content to acknowledge as his Op. 1, the Passacaglia. This, I must confess, is a work to which I donít find it easy to warm. However, Gielen secures a performance that is lucid, powerful and clear. His clever juxtaposition of these two works shows how far Webern had travelled in the space of four years. He gets an excellent performance from the orchestra and between them they give an especially impressive account of the eerie, nocturnal closing pages of this score.

To complete the programme, Cornelia Kallisch gives a fine and sensitive account of Kindertotenlieder. She may not exhibit quite the same degree of emotional involvement that the likes of Baker, Ferrier or Ludwig bring to these songs but she is an expressive soloist. She sings with full tone and clear diction and benefits from idiomatic, sharply observed accompaniment by Gielen and his orchestra. A fine reading of the fifth song, ĎIn diesem Wetterí where the opening minutes are sharply projected by singer and players alike crowns the performance. The poignant last few pages of this song are touchingly done. Unfortunately neither the texts nor translations are provided, a most regrettable omission, especially in a full price release.

In summary, this is a fine and stimulating CD. The music has been thoroughly prepared and is well played and thoughtfully executed. I couldnít claim either of the Mahler items would be a clear first choice but the performances have a serious claim on the attentions of all devotees of this endlessly fascinating composer and the Webern performances are first rate.

John Quinn

See Tony Duggans comparative review of recordings of Mahler 10


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CDTnº1 - G. MAHLER
Kindertotenlieder
Nun will die Sonn' so hell aufgeh'n

Nun seh' ich wohl, warum so dunkle Flammen

Wenn dein Mutterlein

Oft denk' ich, sie sind nur ausgegangen

In diesem Wetter

Symphony No. 10
Adagio


CDTnº7 - A. WEBERN
Passacaglia Op.1


CDTnº8 - A. WEBERN
Im Sommerwind



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