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Composer: Mahler, Gustav (1860-1911)

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NorwichElder conducts Brahms and Mahler

Britten, Mahler, Brahms
Britten Sinfonia; Sir Mark Elder; Anna Stéphany

BarcelonaLa Sinfonía trágica de Mahler con Pinchas Steinberg

La Sinfonía trágica de Mahler con Pinchas Steinberg
Mahler: Symphony no. 6 in A minor "Tragic"
Orquestra Simfònica de Barcelona i Nacional de Catalunya; Pinchas Steinberg

SwanseaStephen Hough plays Beethoven

Stephen Hough plays Beethoven
Beethoven, Mahler
BBC National Orchestra of Wales; Thomas Søndergård; Stephen Hough; Catriona Morison

OsloCollaboration with the Norwegian Academy of Music

Mahler: Symphony no. 3 in D minor
The Norwegian Radio Orchestra; Miguel Harth-Bedoya; Anna Larsson; The Women's Choral Society of the University of Oslo; Sølvguttene

LondonSongs from the Road, part of SoundState

Mahler, Yun, Traditional
Aurora Orchestra; Nicholas Collon; Jennifer Johnston; Ali Sethi; Sam Amidon
Latest reviewsSee more...

Orchestre Métropolitain renders a poignant Mahler 9

Yannick Nézet-Séguin © Orchestre Métropolitain | François Goupil
Eighteen years ago Montreal’s Orchestre Métropolitain took a huge gamble by appointing the youthful local Yannick Néget- Séguin as its Music Director. Now, when the Maestro returns to conduct in his native city, a lovefest ensues.
****1
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Cool brilliance: Currentzis conducts Mahler at the Philharmonie

Teodor Currentzis © Olya Runyova
Theodor Currentzis and his musicAeterna bring blistering detail and revelatory playing to Wunderhorn-period Mahler, but it ultimately proves short on warmth. 
****1
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Remembrance connections explored by Bostridge and Pappano

Ian Bostridge © Sim Canetty-Clarke
Pappano never put a foot wrong as he dug precious beauties from beneath his fingers.
***11
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Intense Mahler and Schubert from Thomas E. Bauer in Auckland

Thomas E. Bauer © Marco Borggreve
The vocal items in this programme were the most successful, driven as they were by Bauer's searing interpretations.
****1
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Mälkki’s Mahler 5 proves a mixed bag in Los Angeles

Susanna Mälkki’s choppy, uneven Mahler 5, preceded by a Steve Reich world première. 
***11
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Biography

The most striking thing about Mahler’s music is its sheer scale and ambition - and “strike” is the right word: Mahler’s music seldom shrinks from doing whatever it takes to make maximum impact. It’s evident from every stage in his compositional career: from his first major composition, das Klagende Lied, a cantata for full choir and two orchestras written when he was just twenty years old, to the third symphony with its forty minute first movement, which aspires to be a musical description of the whole of creation, to the eighth symphony, dubbed “Symphony of a Thousand” (much to Mahler’s chagrin) after Leopold Stokovsky conducted 1,068 performers at its première. And who else would attempt to cover the entire earth in a symphonic cantata for soprano, baritone and a giant orchestra, entitling it Das Lied von der Erde (the Song of the Earth)?

Mahler’s music polarises. If it connects with you, it does so with enormous power and intensity. The third symphony can indeed make you feel like you just took in all life and creation at a hundred-minute sitting. The fifth symphony opens with a funeral fanfare that leaves you shaking after just the first few bars, while the second movement’s helter skelter theme leaves you breathless and reeling. Mahler fans are amongst the most devoted set in the whole of classical music, with active societies around the world and thousands of pages dissecting his works in the minutest detail.

Mahler could also write with intimacy and contemplation. That same fifth symphony which opens so clangorously contains the adagietto for harp and strings, made famous by Luchino Visconti’s film Death in Venice, whose achingly long suspended chords quietly lead the listener through tragedy and meditation. The same intimacy can be heard in Kindertotenlieder, a song cycle that is vivid and quiet in its portrayal of a parent’s grief at the loss of a child: an eerie foretelling of the composer’s own grief when his daughter died of scarlet fever four years later.

Not everyone feels this way. Many viewed Mahler as “an excellent conductor who wrote excessively long symphonies”, and the Sunday Times of 1960 described the first movement of the third symphony as “an artistic monstrosity”. Mahler is often mercurial, mixing high drama and seriousness with a fondness for Austrian folk song and even the klezmer music of his Jewish youth: some listeners simply can’t cope with this. Even for the committed, appreciating his music demands patience, concentration and, preferably, repeated listenings. This is perhaps why he achieved far greater recognition after the widespread adoption of the long-playing record in the 1950s.

Whatever the views of him as a composer, Mahler was more or less universally acknowledged as a great conductor. He had a glittering career including positions at Vienna, Prague, Leipzig, Hamburg and Budapest, culminating in ten years as director of the Vienna State Opera. In the last years of his life, he received equal acclaim in the United States, where he conducted both the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic, earning what was at the time the highest ever fee paid to a musician.

Perhaps for this reason, he has inspired many great conductors, starting with his contemporary and friend Bruno Walter and continuing through Jascha Horenstein and Herbert von Karajan to Claudio Abbado and Simon Rattle today.

Musically, Mahler forms a bridge from the romantic to the modern eras. He appeals to those who find the romantic form too rigid and stifling, but have difficulty in accepting the harsh atonality of much twentieth century music. His music liberally mixes orchestral and vocal forms and abandons much formal structure in its search for impact and expressivity, yet retains a base in conventional tonality that makes it easy on the ear for those raised in the romantic tradition. Love it or loathe it, a Mahler concert is a memorable experience.

David Karlin
21st December 2009