In October 2014, Michael Gielen issued a press release announcing that he had been forced to end his conducting activities for health reasons. On this occasion, and also with his 90th birthday in July 2017 in mind, it is time to listen to the different phases of a long conducting career. The Michael Gielen Edition offers this opportunity. It comprises several volumes of varying size, dedicated to individual composers or major historical periods. The recordings in this sixth volume have all been taken from the SWR’s Baden-Baden archive. Hence they are all performed by “his” orchestra, recently named the SWR Symphony Orchestra Baden-Baden and Freiburg. Presumably the earliest recording of a Mahler symphony conducted by Gielen was at a concert of the Hessischer Rundfunk (public broadcaster for the German state of Hessen), where the Fifth Symphony was played in December 1963, and his last recording of a Mahler symphony was the Sixth Symphony performed in a guest concert of the SWR Symphony Orchestra at the Salzburg Festival on August 21, 2013.
Like the growth of the cult of Christ, the growth of the cult of Mahler started with the man himself performing his works whenever and wherever he had the chance. Like Christ, Mahler was followed by true believers who had known him and who proselytized for him among the unbelievers with the fervor of musical Pentecostals. The true believers were followed by those who had never known the man himself but whose belief was therefore all the more passionate and subjective. And thus it was that the faith spread from Mahler to Walter, Klemperer, and Mengelberg; and then on to Mitropoulos, Bernstein, Kubelik, Solti, and Haitink; then on to Abbado, Bertini, Boulez, de Waart, Inbal, Maazel, and Rattle, spreading from the true believers to the passionate believers of the true believers to those who still keep the belief but whose faith is more reason than emotion, more intellect than spirit, more nuance than rapture.
It is all too easy to take Gustav Mahler's symphonies and orchestral songs for granted in the 21st century's first decade. More than ever before, concert performances and recordings of these works abound, and at a level of proficiency that reveals the remarkable extent to which musicians worldwide have assimilated the composer's idiom. Given the music's primacy in today's central orchestral repertoire, we forget how the great Mahler advocates of the past had to champion his music in the face of adversity. "Who can bear those monstrous symphonies, those over-blown, out-of-date horrors," asked one leading music critic when the New York Philharmonic launched a Mahler Festival to celebrate the composer's 1960 centenary.
When at last it was revealed what Mahler’s final intentions were regarding the ordering of the inner movements of his 6th Symphony, 90 years of theory, history, & performance practice went right out the window. For theorists, it altered the harmonic structure of Mahler’s A minor Symphony. For historians, it modified the meaning of Mahler’s “Tragic” Symphony. For players & conductors, it changed the musical progress of Mahler’s 6th Symphony. For listeners, it made Mahler’s deepest & darkest symphony even deeper & darker. With the achingly nostalgic Andante moderato now coming before the bitingly bitter Scherzo, the triumph of the opening Allegro energico sounds even more hollow & empty & the collapse of the closing Allegro moderato sounds even more final & total.
Bold, lush, and exquisite piano quartets by Mahler, Schumann, and Brahms, this core classical album presents some of the finest pieces written in the romantic era. For this chamber music album, Daniel Hope has put together a stellar cast, including CMS Artistic Directors David Finckel and Wu Han, as well as viola legend Paul Neubauer.