Friday, April 13, 2012

Preview: "By the street stands a linden tree" -- Mahler's "Wayfarer Songs," part 2


"Frère Jacques"? That beloved old French round song -- huh??? You'll hear why, but here's a hint:

Boston Symphony Orchestra, Erich Leinsdorf, cond. RCA/BMG, recorded Oct. 10-11, 1962

by Ken

This week we complete our brief but intense journey through Mahler's Songs of a Wayfarer. In Part 1, we began by hearing how the composer transformed the song "Ging heut' Morgen übers Feld" into the exposition of his First Symphony. Tonight we're going to hear something still more remakable, I think, and surpassingly beautiful. I think it's fair to describe it as a life-changing moment, at least for the narrator. Let's start by listening to just these two all-too-brief excerpts.

Or three, actually. This time we're not going to cheat as we did with "Ging heut' Morgen übers Feld," when we skipped over the intermediate stage: Mahler's orchestration of the song, prior to his incorporation of it into the symphony.ing by going back to the initially piano-accompanied version of the song, ignoring the fact that Mahler had orchestrated it before incorporating it into the symphony. (We've even got recordings that our soloist made in the same year!)

Piano-accompanied version of the song

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone; Leonard Bernstein, piano. CBS/Sony, recorded in New York, 1968
Orchestral version of the song

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone; Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Rafael Kubelik, cond. DG, recorded December 1968
Symphonic rendering

Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Rafael Kubelik, cond. DG, recorded October 1967

Boston Symphony Orchestra, Erich Leinsdorf, cond. RCA/BMG, recorded Oct. 10-11, 1962

(I notice that the start points of the clips aren't exactly synched up. I suppose I could redo them, but I don't think that's going to happen.)


NOW TO HEAR THE COMPLETE SONG



Hermann Prey sings "Die zwei blauen Augen von meinem Schatz" with Václav Neumann conducting the Southwest German Radio (SWF) Symphony Orchestra. The "Auf der Strasse" section is at 2:43.


THE PERFORMANCE WE'RE ABOUT TO HEAR IS SO
SPECIAL, IT THWARTED MY ORIGINAL INTENTION


If I were to make a short list of the most beautiful pieces of musical performance I've heard, no matter how short the list got, I think I'd have a tough time jettisoning this one. My original plan was to make an audio clip of just the "Auf der Strasse" section, as I did before the click-through with the Fischer-Dieskau recordings. The thing was, when it came to wielding the digital ax, I found myself so overwhelmed that I just couldn't do it. The best I could do was to provide a time cue for the "Auf der Strasse" section. )

You'll note, by the way, that this section marks another of the "minor to major" transformations we listened to in December (first preview, then main post).

When we get to the third movement of the First Symphony, you'll notice that this section isn't all the Mahler borrowed for the symphonic movement. Notably that relentlessly rocking timpani-tap underpinning stepped out into the foreground.

MAHLER: Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen
(Songs of a Wayfarer):
iv. "Die zwei blauen Augen von meinem Schatz"
("The two blue eyes of my darling")



["Auf der Strasse" at 3:00] Maureen Forrester, contralto; Boston Symphony Orchestra, Charles Munch, cond. RCA/BMG, recorded Dec. 28, 1958

Here, by the way is the whole of the two 1968 Fischer-Dieskau performances, the piano-accompanied one with Leonard Bernstein and the orchestral version with Rafael Kubelik. I've also thrown in the earlier orchestral recording with Wilhelm Furtwängler. In "Die zwei blauen Augen" Fischer-Dieskau is still fussing more than I would like, but I think we nevertheless get a good glimpse -- in the performance with Kubelik in particular -- of his greatness as an artist.


Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone; Leonard Bernstein, piano. CBS/Sony, recorded in New York, 1968

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone; Philharmonia Orchestra, Wilhelm Furtwängler, cond. EMI, recorded June 24-25, 1952

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone; Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Rafael Kubelik, cond. DG, recorded December 1968


NOW LET'S HEAR THE SYMPHONIC MOVEMENT
INTO WHICH MAHLER INCORPORATED THE SONG


You'll notice that less than four years separate the Boston Symphony performance we're about to hear of the third movement of the Mahler First Symphony (from which we've actually already heard a snatch before the click-through) from the above recording of "Die zwei blauen Augen," but they were pretty significant years for the orchestra, with Erich Leinsdorf succeeding Charles Munch as music director with the 1961-62 season.

There's no question that it was a big, almost traumatic change for the orchestra and its fans. For all that, and for all that Munch wasn't exactly a "Mahler conductor," I think you can hear -- even in digitized and MP3-ed form -- the continuity in the basic sound quality of what I always thought of as, along with Amsterdam's Concertgebouw Orchestra, the most beautiful orchestras I knew.

Then we'll also hear the complete Kubelik-Bavarian Radio Symphony performance.

MAHLER: Symphony No. 1: iii. Feierlich und gemessen, ohne zu schleppen (Solemn and measured, without dragging)

[song-derived central section at 6:00] Boston Symphony Orchestra, Erich Leinsdorf, cond. RCA/BMG, recorded Oct. 10-11, 1962

[song-derived central section at 5:16] Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Rafael Kubelik, cond. DG, recorded October 1967


IN THIS WEEK'S SUNDAY CLASSICS POST

We finish up the Songs of a Wayfarer cycle, hearing not just more of the fourth and final song, "Die zwei Augen von meinem Schatz," but also the angry third, "Ich hab' ein glühend' Messer."
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