Monday, 9 January 2017

Gustav Mahler, and Kirill Petrenko

I first came across the music of Gustav Mahler when I was in my early teens, acquiring recordings of the Kindertotenlieder, then of the Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, then of the fourth symphony (Paul Kletzki and the Philharmonia, that I acquired in 1958 on a Columbia LP). Subsequently I dived regularly into Mahler's music – in 1959 I was in the Albert Hall (while my father was in the orchestra) listening to Mahler's eighth symphony. In the 1970s I was in one of the London halls listening to Mahler's fifth symphony. Between around 1956 and 2017, I decided that the only Mahler works I really enjoyed were the Kindertotenlieder, the Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, Das Lied von der Erde … and the fourth symphony. If I have time and patience, I might re-visit the second symphony, that seems to have promise, for me. But the rest I leave to my great-grandchildren.

My selectivity regarding Mahler seems to have been shared by others; Otto Klemperer, who as a young man was a Mahler acolyte and owed much to Mahler, played Mahler works all his life, but mainly the second and fourth symphonies (plus Das Lied, of course). To my knowledge, Klemperer never bothered to record the first, third, fifth, sixth and eighth symphonies of Mahler – but I have three recordings of the fourth symphony conducted by him. So I was interested to receive a Mahler recording by Kirill Petrenko … of the fourth symphony! I gather Mahler devotees regard the fourth symphony as a bit outside the canon, but it appears that Klemperer, Petrenko and I are fans of the fourth. The Petrenko (Kirill, not Vasily) performance dates from 2004 and comes with the Orchester der Komischen Oper Berlin, not an obvious Mahler orchestra at that date. Petrenko was only 32 at the time of this recording, having emigrated from Russia to Austria at the age of 18. Even so, the conducting is sure and the performance excellent if, one suspects, it will be even better and less episodic 30 years later when Petrenko takes a longer view of the music and the scherzo can become more fantastique, rather than burlesque. I have been listening to Kirill Petrenko (courtesy of a good friend) conducting Mahler, Rimsky-Korsakov, Richard Strauss, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, and Elgar; all good late Romanic stuff in which Petrenko seems to excel. He has yet to be heard (by me) in Debussy, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Brahms, Beethoven, Sibelius and Mozart, of course. But as a lover of the late Romantics, I am grateful for a fellow aficionado.

Mahler's fourth symphony (Paul Kletzki conducting the Philharmonia, with Emmy Loose in the finale) is perhaps the only recording of my collection to have survived nearly 60 years in the Number One spot. One day, I suspect, Kirill Petrenko will finally dislodge it.

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