Mahler Premiere

Symphony No.2 in C minor (Resurrection) [World premiere of the Revised Critical Edition]

Sally Matthews (soprano)
Karen Cargill (mezzo-soprano)

Philharmonia Chorus
Crouch End Festival Chorus
Brighton Festival Chorus
Southend Festival Chorus

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Gilbert Kaplan

Reviewed by: Timothy Ball

Reviewed: 18 October, 2005
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Gilbert Kaplan is well-known as an authority on Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’ Symphony, having led more than 50 orchestras in performances of this extraordinary score, alongside studying various manuscripts and published editions of it.

Now he presents (and has recorded, with the Vienna Philharmonic, on Deutsche Grammophon) a Revised Critical Edition, which ‘corrects’ numerous oversights in previous printed versions. This edition has been published by Universal Edition in association with The Kaplan Foundation.

What was interesting about this concert performance was the numerous times it strayed from this recently published score.Right at the beginning, for instance, the violins and violas weredirected to deliver a sudden ‘piano’ as opposed to the diminuendoindicated in the score. There were, subsequently, several divergences from the ‘new’ score, not all of which were conveyed with apposite conviction, but which proved that the letter and spirit of a score are two rather different things.

And whilst Gilbert Kaplan’s intention to deliver the minutiae wascompletely commendable, on the way something of the soul of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony was forsaken.

There was, overall, a somewhat cautious approach, and so the apocalyptic vision of the composer was relegated in favour of a literal reading of dynamic and articulation markings – not all of which were fully realised. In fact, the whole symphony felt unusually episodic. Whilst details here and there were attended to diligently, the ‘sweep’ of the whole was not made manifest.

Certainly, the mighty first movement had passages suggestive of funereal rites (parts of Mahler’s, later discarded, programmatic scenario were reproduced in the programme), but these were offset by moments which felt curiously disconnected. Odd passages of repose were affecting – solo woodwinds were outstandingly played – but the powerful surging suggesting weighty ritual was curiously muted in effect.

Kaplan ensured that the 5-minute pause between the first and second movements was observed, but the latter was inappropriately dainty in execution and the string glissandos – here and elsewhere – were too half-hearted. And would not an orchestra of Mahler’s time include as a matter of routine antiphonal violins? Not here. Also, towards the close, Mahler’s intention of having the pizzicato strings play ‘like guitars’ was disregarded.

The third movement scherzo was too light-hearted; the basic tempo was too fast. In any event, the piquant contributions from the winds were too smooth and amiable, and so the lead-in to the searing chords described by Mahler as “a scream of anguish” did not feel as an inevitable outcome.

Admirably, the fourth movement followed on immediately (as per Mahler’s directions), but the trumpets were much too loud, and there was no attempt to alleviate this by reproducing the composer’s seating-arrangement for the winds and brass.

Karen Cargill, however, was a laudable soloist, even if others have managed to inject more ‘angst’ at the despairing cry of “Ach nein”. But this movement, instead of being largely an oasis of calm and repose, sounded unusually – and inappropriately – restless.

The finale, again, felt episodic, though there were moments where the music – especially quieter sections – suddenly burgeoned. The off-stage band was uncommonly well balanced and placed, even if there were a disconcerting number of places where the instrumental execution was not flawless.

Moving to the choral conclusion, the massed choirs were especially impressive when hushed, but the sense of striving towards an optimistic climax was not felt strongly and the latter needed more sheer amplitude of tone and conviction of execution.

Gilbert Kaplan’s academic devotion to the particulars of Mahler’s music is something wholly admirable, but, on this occasion, his actual realisation of the whole amounted to something which was less than impressive in its execution of the composer’s intentions.Kaplan’s programme note quoted the composer: “…everything must be overflowing, gushing forth continually…”. These were the very qualities missing from this well-intentioned, though ultimately flawed, performance.

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