Friday, November 16, 2012

Sunday Classics preview: Another set of three exotic Mahler "middle movements"


Gianandrea Noseda conducts the BBC Philharmonic in the Deryck Cooke performing version of the first of the two scherzos of Mahler's uncompleted Tenth Symphony, 2007.

by Ken

We're in the middle of two projects. Last week we continued our Sexual Obsession in Opera series with the initial intersection of the protagonists of Bizet's Carmen, the free-spirited gypsy Carmen and the Basque army sergeant Don José, both displaced to Seville. And two weeks ago we attacked Mahler's uniquely wonderful Seventh Symphony from the middle: listening to the three middle movements -- the two Nachtmusik (Night Music) movements that frame a scherzo. Those two movements are in turn framed by the symphony's "big" movements.

We're going to come back to Carmen, probably next week, to hear Carmen and José through to their climactic confrontation. Meanwhile this week we return to the Mahler Seventh, to hear those grand outer movements, which we'll do on Sunday. For tonight I thought we'd take a peek into the future.

I mentioned that in the Seventh Symphony Mahler had settled on a structure that would serve him for his two last symphonies: the majestic leave-taking Ninth and the sadly uncompleted Tenth. Oh, the temper has moved on, but then, we have to remember that it was after the grandiose two-part Eighth Symphony (of which we recently listened to Part I) that Mahler learned he was dying, which brought a transformation that we hear in the immense final works: the song-symphony Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth) and the Ninth and Tenth Symphonies. And the two formally named symphonies have framing movements that are all enormous slow movements. (We've heard the opening song and the two other tenor songs of Das Lied, and the great final alto song, "Der Abschied" ["The Farewell"], and we've poked a bit around the ineffable final Adagio of the Ninth.)

The Ninth, of course, has only two "middle" movements, and so it's the Tenth that most calls to mind the Seventh. And I thought tonight, with the the three middle movemetns of the Seventh -- the two Night Musics surrounding the scherzo -- fresh in our ears. The Tenth, like the Ninth, was meant to be framed by a pair of enormous slow movements, but between them it was to have a pair of scherzos bracketing a strange little "Purgatorio" movement.

The textual history of the Mahler Tenth is too enormous and complicated to go into beyond these few notes. Beyond substantially completing the great opening Adagio, Mahler left substantial draft materials for the rest of the symphony -- not nearly enough to consider the piece "composed," especially considering how much revising and filling in he would surely have done had he ever gotten to that stage, but way too extensive to ignore. And so a posse of would-be deputy Mahlers have stepped in and produced what the first of them, both the humblest and the most persuasive of them, called a "performing version." I thought we would take advantage of this opportunity to hear three of them, bearing in mind of course that we're also hearing three very different conductors.

(The tempo markings used in the various editions are too diverse to go into here, so I'm just going to collapse them into the simple shorthand of Scherzo I and II and "Purgatorio.")

MAHLER: Symphony No. 10 in F-sharp:
ii. Scherzo I
iii. Purgatorio
iv. Scherzo II

Performing version by Deryck Cooke: Berlin Symphony Orchestra, Kurt Sanderling, cond. Berlin Classics, recorded Nov.-Dec. 1979

Performing version by Clinton Carpenter: Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Andrew Litton, cond. Delos, recorded June 3-6, 2001

Performing version by Remo Mazzetti Jr.: Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Jesús López-Cobos, cond. Telarc, recorded Feb. 6-7, 2000


As noted, we complete our tour of the dark nocturnal world of the Mahler Seventh.

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