On record – Michael Gielen conducts Mahler: Das klagende Lied (Orfeo)

mahler-gielen

Brigitte Poschner-Klebel (soprano), Marjana Lipovšek (mezzo-soprano), David Rendall (tenor), Manfred Hemm (baritone), Wiener Singakademie, ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra / Michael Gielen

Mahler
Das klagende Lied (1878-80, rev. 1899)

Orfeo C210021 [62’10”] German text and English translation included. 

Remastering Erich Hofmann

Live performance at Konzerthaus, Vienna, 8 June 1990

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Orfeo has put Michael Gielen admirers in its debt with this live performance of Das klagende Lied, a work which this conductor did not tackle with the SWR Symphony Orchestra and so could not be featured in the sixth volume devoted to Mahler of SWR Music’s Gielen Edition.

What’s the music like?

The almost total dearth of music composed prior to Das klagende Lied makes its appearance the more remarkable, Mahler drawing on a lineage from Schubert, via Schumann and Liszt, to Wagner in a dramatic cantata – to his own text – whose themes of fratricide and vengeance beyond the grave struck a resonance. Its failure to secure the Beethoven Prize in 1881 likely condemned Mahler to years in provincial opera houses; major revision leading to its premiere in 1901 and publication the following year – the first of its three parts having been jettisoned.

Yet it is Waldmärchen, broadcast on Czech radio in 1934 but otherwise unheard until 1970, that most clearly denotes the nature of Mahler’s achievement. The lengthy orchestral prelude resounds with horn-calls and images of nature, and if the initial stages of the narrative reflect the schematic confines of its ballad form, the depiction of the younger brother’s triumph then his death at the hands of the elder brother summons a response of starkest intensity; with that desolate closing section seldom (perhaps never?) equalled for its depiction of innocence lost.

The remaining parts are more concentrated in their unfolding, while no less focussed in their emotional acuity. Der Spielmann relates said minstrel’s unwitting discovery of the murder through a tense intermezzo that more nearly touches on Mahler’s future symphonic thinking, while Hochzeitstück affords the greatest emotional contrasts as it moves from evoking the wedding festivities, via the stealthy revelation of the elder brother’s guilt, to a violent climax then postlude that renders such events from a vantage no less tragic for its otherworldly calm.

At the time of the present performance, Das klagende Lied was only performable in a hybrid of the first part with the revised second and third parts. Publication of the original scores of these latter two in 1997 should have made for a straight choice between the 1880 original or the 1899 revision, but most subsequent hearings have still opted for the earlier compromise – regrettable, given Mahler amended the latter parts so these could be heard without reference to what had once gone before. Not that this should inhibit appreciation of what is heard here.

Does it all work?

It does, thanks to Gielen’s intent in endowing those narrative and – latent – symphonic facets of this score with an unforced equilibrium. Of the vocalists only the soprano’s rather fluttery tone affords reservations, the Wiener Singakademie despatches Mahler’s resourceful choral writing with relish, and the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra sounds fully attuned to an orchestration whose keen originality doubtless unnerved his elders at its time of completion. Immediate yet sympathetically balanced sound faithfully conveys the ambience of the Konzerthaus acoustic.

Is it recommended?

Very much so. Those wanting the piece as Mahler conceived it should acquire Kent Nagano’s account (Erato), or head to Pierre Boulez’s remake (DG) for the two-part revision. Otherwise, Gielen’s amalgam could well be considered the first choice for this so often astounding work.

Listen & Buy

You can get more information on the disc at the Orfeo website, or purchase from Presto

On record – Christopher Ward conducts Rott: Orchestral Works Vol.2 (Capriccio)

rott-ward-2

Gürzenich Orchester Köln / Christopher Ward

Rott
Symphony (no.1) in E major (1878-80)
Symphony for Strings (1874-5)
Symphonic movement in E major (1878)

Capriccio C5414 [77’02”]

Producers Thomas Bössl, Johannes Kernmayer
Engineer Sebastian Nattkemper

Recorded 27, 28 & 31 January 2020 at Studio Stolberger Strasse, Cologne

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Capriccio releases its second volume devoted to orchestral music by the Viennese composer Hans Rott (1858-84), including a further recorded outing for the Symphony that was destined to remain his only fully realized mature work and on which his posthumous reputation rests.

What’s the music like?

Much is well known about the circumstances of Rott’s only completed symphony – namely its failure to secure a performance in his lifetime, being lauded by his younger contemporary Mahler (who alluded to it in at least four of his own symphonies) and its premiere 105 years after his death. That other composers in and around Vienna studied the score – elements are audible in Bruckner’s Seventh of 1883, even Franz Schmidt’s First of 1899 – is testament to its formal and expressive acuity in attempting to define a symphonic concept for the future.

Rott had produced a preliminary version of the opening movement which, recorded here for the first time, features the same themes in a relatively stolid entity that became more fluid in revision. The trumpet melody proves totemic for the whole work, as does Rott’s pervasive use of triangle as an ambient rather than merely textural device. Its preludial nature is reinforced by the emotional raptness of the adagio, twice building to intense climaxes that are eloquently rendered here, while leaving no doubt as to the composer’s harmonic and polyphonic mastery.

The highlight, though, is surely the scherzo – its elaborate design exuding rhythmic flair and a contrapuntal dexterity to the fore in this performance, with a frisson of excitement when the music threatens to career out of control in the closing pages. The finale’s ambition might not quite be equalled by its execution, but it does not prevent this heady amalgam of ruminative introduction that leads to a majestic prelude and fugue, then on to a fervent peroration, from aspiring to a transcendence it very nearly grasps. What might Rott have achieved forthwith?

By contrast, the Symphony for Strings is very much the product of a gifted student happy to emulate the string serenades of now little-heard minor masters such as Volkmann and Fuchs. That said, its trenchant opening Allegro then elegant slow movement are ably conceived in their writing for solo and ensemble strings, and if what follows equivocates between scherzo and finale (a fourth movement being summarily abandoned), it rounds off in lively fashion a piece that gives notice of Rott’s proficiency if little indication of a trailblazer in the making.

Does it all work?

Yes, inasmuch the Symphony requires a considerable level of intervention by the conductor to make it cohere as an integral entity. This it duly receives from Christopher Ward – cannily underlining thematic continuity across the whole, so that Rott is vindicated in what can seem reckless attempts to secure cohesion in the face of some disjunctive episodes. The Symphony for Strings presents few problems, with Ward bringing out various textural and phrasal points of interest. In both pieces, the Cologne Gürzenich musicians play to their collective strengths.

Is it recommended?

Indeed, those new to the Symphony should make it their choice of eight recordings. Vivid if rather airless sound, and detailed notes by Christian Heindl. Until more emerges of a putative ‘Second Symphony’, these discs would seem to be the last word on Rott’s orchestral output.

Listen & Buy

 

You can get more information on the disc at the Capriccio website, or purchase from Presto. Meanwhile for more information on Hans Rott, you can head to a dedicated website

On record: Soloists, Wiener Konzertchor, ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra / Friedrich Cerha – Wellesz: Die Opferung des Gefangenen (Capriccio)

wellesz

Wolfgang Koch (bass-baritone) Field Commander, Robert Brooks (tenor) Prince’s Shield Bearer, Ivan Urbas (bass) Head of the Council, Hae-Sang Hwang (soprano), Patricia Dewey (contralto), Wiener Konzertchor, ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra / Friedrich Cerha

Egon Wellesz
Die Opferung des Gefangenen Op.40 (The Sacrifice of the Prisoner) (1924-5)

Capriccio C5423 [56’01”]

Producer Kurt Kindl
Engineer Hans Moralt

Recorded 24 March 1995 at Konzerthaus, Vienna (live peformance)

Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Capriccio continues its coverage of Egon Wellesz (1885-1974) with this live recording of the stage-work Die Opferung des Gefangenen (The Sacrifice of the Prisoner), one of his most striking large-scale dramatic pieces from the inter-war era when he was established among Austria’s leading composers.

What’s the music like?

Although now most highly regarded for the orchestral and chamber works written while in exile after 1938 (settling in Oxford, he was made a fellow of Lincoln College and became a leading authority on Byzantine music and opera of the early Baroque), Wellesz was earlier best known for his theatrical works (four ballets and five operas) as were heard throughout German-speaking territories. Not least The Sacrifice of the Prisoner, first staged in Cologne on 2nd April 1926 and whose designation ‘opera-ballet’ indicates a hybrid conception that was very much in vogue during this period – composers as distinct as Stravinsky, Martinů, Milhaud and Weill all attempting something similar, whatever the differences in aesthetic.

With a scenario by Eduard Stucken, the work concerns the territorial (and, moreover, tribal) conflict between those peoples of Quiché and Rabinal – in what is present-day Guatemala – during the early 15th century. The action is unfolded in starkly ceremonial terms (Capriccio has not included an English translation of the libretto, but Hannes Heher’s detailed booklet provides more than sufficient context) such as leave little room for exploration of character or scenic evocation, yet this does not preclude (indeed, might have encouraged) a musical response as is both personal and affecting. Sample any of the five ‘Dances’ (tracks 6, 8, 11, 13 and 15) to hear Wellesz opening out its expressive ambit in striking and evocative ways.

After the Cologne premiere, there were stagings at Magdeburg in 1927 and Berlin in 1930, before the advent of the Third Reich made further performances impossible. This account, still the only one from the post-war era, was of a concert presentation given in Vienna just over a quarter-century ago and conveys this work’s hieratic power as well as its emotional pathos in gratifying measure. Perhaps a future DVD release of a full staging will yet reveal even more of its dramatic potency, but no-one with even a passing interest in the theatrical possibilities of what was arguably the most innovative decade from the last century should pass up the opportunity to encounter what is much more than just a fascinating period piece.

Does it all work?

It does, and not least for reasons such as might have irked its composer – Wellesz’s invoking of a highly stylized and ritualistic theatre being not that far removed from what his younger German contemporary Carl Orff was working towards at around this time. There are fervent contributions by Wolfgang Koch and Robert Brooks among the vocalists, while chorus and orchestra respond with comparable dedication to Friedrich Cerha who, whether as composer, conductor, or administrator, has left an indelible mark on post-war Austrian musical culture.

Is it recommended?

Indeed, allowing this music will not appeal to all tastes. Those new to Wellesz may prefer to start with the earlier of his nine symphonies (CPO) or Capriccio’s release of his concertos for violin and piano (C67181), but no-one hearing the present piece will likely be left unmoved.

For further information on this release, and to purchase, visit the Capriccio website. For more on Egon Wellesz, the composer’s website is a helpful resource.

On record – Christopher Ward conducts Rott: Orchestral Works Vol.1 (Capriccio)

Gürzenich Orchester Köln / Christopher Ward

Rott
Overture to Hamlet (1876, compl. Schmidt)
Suite in E major (1878)
Prelude to Julius Cäsar (1877)
Prelude in E major (1876)
Suite in B flat major (1877)
Pastoral Prelude in F major (1877-80)

Capriccio C5408 [51’44”]

Producers Wolfram Nehls, Johannes Kernmayer
Engineer Thomas Bössl

Recorded 23-25 January 2020 at Studio Stolberger Strasse, Cologne

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Capriccio issues the first in what is (presumably) a two-volume survey of orchestral music by Hans Rott (1858-84), gathering up the extant or realizable shorter pieces from his regrettably brief yet highly eventful composing career, in what are assured and idiomatic performances.

What’s the music like?

The one premiere recording is of the Hamlet Overture, its orchestration broken off after some 35 bars yet with the overall draft sufficiently advanced to enable this completion by Johannes Volker Schmidt. The manuscript’s designation Prelude suggests this as the introduction to an operatic or choral work, but the absence of more concrete information makes it uncertain how far this piece shadows events in Shakespeare’s drama. As a concert overture, it unfolds purposefully enough and much the same might be said of the Julius Cäsar Prelude, given its anxious pivoting between the majestic and the intimate; informed by a Wagnerian approach to harmony and sonority no doubt occasioned by Rott’s attending the first Bayreuth Festival.

Most of these other items were composition exercises while Rott was studying at the Vienna Conservatoire, with the concise Prelude in E evincing no mean emotional fervour. The brace of movements in each of the suites find the composer in more relaxed mood. Those of the E major feature a Prelude of eloquent restraint then a Finale whose rather greater variety of mood and dramatic culmination are altogether more prophetic. Those of the B flat feature a Scherzo whose capering motion and deft irony are rather more personable than a Finale that seems intent on building a fugal peroration, only to call time on its progress with an all too perfunctory closing cadence – as to suggest the composer was losing interest as he went on.

Last but emphatically not least, the Pastoral Prelude in F is by far the longest work and the clearest indicator of where Rott might have been headed during that fateful year of 1880. Its subtitle, A Prelude to Elsbeth, again suggests theatrical connotations that were most likely abandoned during the three years over which this piece took shape. The initial stages, with their avian evocations and horn calls, afford a distinctive take on late-Romantic archetypes, while the discursive yet never unfocussed progress towards a powerful apotheosis confirms its composer’s fugal proficiency. It may have had to wait 120 years for its first hearing but this, along with his Symphony, makes clear just what was lost with Rott’s untimely demise.

Does it all work?

Yes, though it needs to be stressed that nothing quite equals the vaunting if reckless ambition evident from the Symphony in E, the defining work (however unintentional) of Rott’s output. It would be fascinating to have heard Mahler’s attempts at orchestral music from this period, while Hugo Wolf’s early orchestral pieces exude rather greater individuality. What cannot be denied is the seriousness with which Rott applies himself, or the commitment with which the Gürzenich forces realize his intentions under the sympathetic guidance of Christopher Ward.

Is it recommended?

Indeed. These pieces have almost always appeared as fill-ups for Rott’s Symphony, making their collation here the more welcome. Excellent sound, decent annotations, and a release to be investigated in advance of the second instalment – already announced for early next year.

Listen & Buy

You can get more information on the disc at the Capriccio website, or purchase from Presto. Meanwhile for more information on Hans Rott, you can head to a dedicated website

On record – Eckart Runge plays Kapustin & Schnittke (Capriccio)

Eckart Runge (cello), Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin / Frank Strobel

Kapustin
Cello Concerto no.1 Op.85 (1997)
Schnittke
Cello Concerto no.1 (1985/6)

Capriccio C5362 [69’52”]

Producer / Engineer  Wolfram Nehls Henri Thaon

Recorded 9-10 March 2018 (Kapustin), 30 September – 2 October 2019 at RBB Haus des Rundfunk, Berlin

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Eckart Runge continues his distinctive – not to say idiosyncratic – recorded odyssey with this pertinent coupling of Russian cello concertos, written a decade apart by composers who were near contemporaries while pursuing radically different paths in terms of career and aesthetic.

What’s the music like?

His First Cello Concerto sees Nikolai Kapustin intent on opening-out his jazz-inflected idiom as centred on the piano over the previous two decades. With its stealthy emergence towards a ‘big band’ summons, the initial Allegro forges a flexible accommodation between soloist and orchestra – the former given its head in brief yet decisive passages, with the two engaging in animated and essentially good-natured banter elsewhere. Kapustin’s take on jazz is beholden to no time or place, but the central Largo evokes that of America’s immediate post-war era in its rhythmic clarity that belies a subdued and often taciturn lyrism; at length accelerating into the final Allegro which, with its incisive interplay and tensile bravura, finds this composer at his most characteristic. How surprising that, given the worldwide interest in Kapustin during his final quarter-century, this piece should have gone unheard until just two years before his death. Runge is audibly intent on making up for that neglect, bringing an impetus and elan to the music as should go some way towards establishing its presence in the modern repertoire.

At almost twice its length, Alfred Schnittke’s First Cello Concerto is evidently the weightier proposition as is proven with this last in a sequence of imposing concertante works – having been preceded by those for violin (No. 4), viola and choir. The initial Moderato unfolds as a soliloquy alternately heightened and threatened by orchestra, its essential pathos continually reasserting itself against the forces of negation. From the ashes of this ultimate confrontation, a Largo emerges fitfully before it takes on an eloquence by no means devoid of anxiety; this latter quality to the fore in an ensuing Allegro as impulsive as it is concentrated. The first of several debilitating strokes suffered soon after starting work on this piece radically altered its concept – the final Largo building in a crescendo of intensity to the radiant apotheosis, before winding down to a serenity whose closure is more real for having been so hard-won. A tough work to make cohere over its lengthy spans of mainly slow music, yet Runge undoubtedly has its measure through his sustaining of these emotional peaks and troughs with such conviction.

Does it all work?

Yes, albeit in terms of those stylistic goals the composers set themselves. Runge currently has no competition for the Kapustin, where his fusion of incisiveness and suavity will be a tough act to follow. His take on the Schnittke is more durable than most of its predecessors, though dedicate Natalia Gutman finds greater intensity in her first recording (Regis/Alto), while the late Alexander Ivashkin teases greater subtlety from more inward passages (Chandos). Frank Strobel with the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra offer alert and idiomatic support in both instances.

Is it recommended?

Indeed, not least in its underlining the diversity of music as came out of Russia during those ‘transitional’ years either side of the USSR’s demise. Informative notes by Christian Heindl and Runge, who will hopefully record the second concertos of both composers for this label.

Listen & Buy

You can get more information on the disc at the Capriccio website, or purchase from Presto. Meanwhile for more information on the artists, Eckart Runge can be found here and Frank Strobel here