Magazine article Gramophone

FROM WHERE I SIT: What Is It with Conductors Who Refuse to Take Mahler at His Word?

Magazine article Gramophone

FROM WHERE I SIT: What Is It with Conductors Who Refuse to Take Mahler at His Word?

Article excerpt

Reviewing Daniele Gatti's new recording of Mahler's Second Symphony last month, I found myself questioning yet again how it is possible to keep this now-familiar music sounding startling and fresh and at the very edge of possibility when great orchestras have the facility, the virtuosity, to make light of its super-challenging demands. The Classical and Early Music repertoire returned to instruments of their respective periods to rekindle that 'shock of newness'. But Mahler was effectively already writing for a 21st-century orchestra when he reimagined the symphony. Above and beyond their sonic demands, it still behoves Mahler's interpreters to heed his very explicit directions and never short-change him. It cannot be said often enough that he must be taken at his word.

I remember a rather distinguished conductor once saying to me in an interview that he believed Mahler's excesses required tempering, that certain 'awkwardnesses' (the word he used) relating to his wildest fluctuations of tempo and dynamics needed a degree of adjustment to make them practicable and credible. But Mahler traded in the incredible. He took all the trappings of 18th- and 19th-century Austro-German music and pushed them to the nth degree. Everything was writ large, larger, largest. The sound of silence and the threshold of pain were achieved in dynamics, accelerandos were reckless sprints to the cliff edge, ritardandos anticipated hugely rhetorical pronouncements, general pauses opened up great chasms in the superstructure. The drama was, and still is, in the excess.

But the conductor not mentioned by name above was far from being alone in his misapprehension. …

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