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Mahler Note

Although it's interfering with my writing, I'm listening to a new recording of Mahler's Fourth Symphony, with the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Claudio Abbado and, for the final movement, soprano Renée Fleming. I still think of the Fourth as one of Mahler's two single-LP symphonies. the other being his first, the "Titan." As you can imagine - or perhaps you can't, because you're too young to remember LPs as a fact of life - the fact that these symphonies fit onto one LP meant that there were far more recordings of them in the old days than there were of the others. It also meant that they were far more often performed at concerts. Delightful as the Fourth is, it nonetheless carries the weight of having been done too often. The upshot of all this is that I'm never much inclined to play it, except when it's actually coming out of the speakers. Then I forget all about overexposure and just listen to it.

Mahler's first four symphonies are usually grouped together as the "Wunderhorn" symphonies, because they work out motifs that first appeared in Des Knaben Wunderhorn - The Youth's Magic Horn - a collection of folk poems that Mahler set to music between 1888 and 1896 (with later additions). Although the music is not at all naive, it breathes the memory of unsophisticated innocence. And because there was a time, in the bleak postgraduate years in Houston, when I-forget-whose recording of the Fourth Symphony was one of the few records that I owned, the music tends to take me back to a very different life.

My favorite Mahler symphony will probably always be the Third, just in case you're curious. At a slightly later point during the bleak time, I bought a recording of the Third by mistake, confusing it with the then much-better known Second. I didn't have the money to buy the Second, so I adopted the Third with a certain fierceness. The symphony's third movement is extraordinarily dear to me. I have a new recording of the Third, too, but it's about two years old. I'm slowly acquiring Riccardo Chailly's cycle, with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. Here, he is joined by mezzo-soprano Petra Lang, the Prague Philharmonic Choir, and the Netherlands Children's Choir.


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Genius minds, etc: I listened to the 4th as well y'day, Bernstein. I went thru a phase of nothing but the 2nd, but now favor the 3rd. Another coincidence: when I opened the jewel box I was glad it was a single CD as the player was full of Nilsson save one spot...

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