Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Symphony no. 3 Sixth movement [20:41]
Symphony no. 4 Third movement [21:01]
Symphony no. 5 Fourth movement [9:53]
Symphony no. 9 Fourth movement [24:17]
CD 2
Symphony no. 1 (1888) Third movement [11:26]
Symphony no. 2 Second movement [10:33]
Symphony no. 6 Second movement [15:57]
Symphony no. 7 Fourth movement [13:10]
Symphony no. 10 First movement [25:10]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Klaus Tennstedt [Symphony no. 3 and no. 7]; Philharmonia Orchestra/Paul Kletzki [Symphony no. 4]; New Philharmonia Orchestra/Sir John Barbirolli [Symphony no. 5 and no. 6]; New Philharmonia Orchestra/Otto Klemperer [Symphony no. 9]; Symphony no. 1, (orchestra not identified)/Carlo Maria Giulini [Symphony no. 1]; Philharmonia Orchestra/Otto Klemperer [Symphony no. 2]; Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Simon Rattle [Symphony no. 10]

EMI CLASSICS 6087532 [76:11 + 78:36]

Released at the same time as EMI’s set of Mahler: The Complete Works, the two-disc set of slow movements derives in part from the larger compilation, but also draws on performances not found in the other set. Mahler’s Adagios affords listeners the opportunity to focus on the slow movement in Mahler’s hands. This is quite revealing when it comes to both the function of the slow movement in his symphonies and the ways in which he treated the content. Moving away from the nineteenth-century conception of the slow movement as a point of contrast within the four movement work, and thus given less structural weight than the outer movements, Mahler’s slow movements function differently and set the stage for innovation in the twentieth century and beyond. It is difficult to imagine Shostakovich’s slow movements without the precedents Mahler establish or, for that matter, such a recent work as Nicholas Maw’s Odyssey. With Mahler, the slow movement is not the respite before the Finale or the idyll after the first movement, and the content can be innovative as with the popular-style music in the slow movement of the First Symphony or the transformation of his song “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen” as the Adagietto of the Fifth.

As to the specifics of this recording, the inclusion of Tennstedt’s slow movement brings to mind the merits of his recording of the Third Symphony from 1980, and the second Nachtmusik from his Seventh (recorded in 1981) is effective both in its context and in excerpt. With the Fourth Symphony, Kletzki’s reading of the slow movement involves some distinctive voicings in the woodwinds and brass that other conductors do not always make. While the balances in some passages may seem out of place at first, they function well when instruments introduce shifts in tone color. Yet taken out of context in this collection, this particular piece seems to end in media res since it connects directly to the Song-Finale. In this sense it differs from the Adagietto of the Fifth Symphony, which is familiar in excerpt. The performance chosen here is from an historic recording by Sir John Barbirolli, who brings appropriate clarity to the piece in a performance that remains of interest.

Another recording of similar vintage is Klemperer’s reading of Mahler’s Ninth with the New Philharmonia Orchestra, which was released in 1967. The slow movement is the Finale, which receives a moving reading from Klemperer. It is as impressive for its subtlety as Tennstedt’s approach to the Finale of the Third Symphony brings out the majesty of that piece. While Mahler chose slow movements to end both symphonies, the character of the Finale differs markedly and demonstrates the ways in which Mahler’s content shaped the architecture of conventional structures.

Mahler also used the slow movement as a means of opening a work, as he did in the unfinished Tenth Symphony. This compilation includes Rattle’s interpretation of that movement from a recording that was released in 2000. This performance offers a sensitive treatment of the scoring that builds to the famous climactic chord. It stands well with other recordings of the movement and of Cooke’s performing edition.

This compilation of slow movements is impressive, and the selection is worth hearing to review both the performances excerpted and the specific movements from Mahler’s oeuvre. A similar compilation of Scherzo movements would be of interest for the focus it would bring to the ways in which Mahler developed the form. Yet with the present set of Mahler Adagios EMI offers something special and does so in a concise way. It is rewarding for the attention it gives to shaping a conventional movement type to serve as a mode of expression that other composers had not yet pursued in the same way. This set is an opportunity for listeners to explore this on their own through this excellent selection of outstanding performances.

James L. Zychowicz

An opportunity for listeners to explore the Mahler Adagio through this excellent selection of outstanding performances.