The Park Avenue Chamber Symphony performed the Mahler Symphony No. 5, a midpoint of his mystical quest through the succession of his nine symphonies and an unfinished tenth. His journey began with the resilient suppleness of his First Symphony to the tranquil, saturnine nihilism that concludes the 9th and Das Lied von der Erde (Song of the Earth). Desire finally acquiesced into submission–an immense love of life struggled amid the horror of mortality and destruction.
Gustav Mahler‘s music elicits great passion among antipodal, disputatious cadres of listeners. Mahler doubters consider his music too psychoneurotic and often too prosaic for enjoyment, while Mahler devotees are transfixed on elation, nonpareils, metamorphosis, and providence. In either case, listeners draw meaning from Mahler’s work when an excellent orchestral performance facilitates a suspension of disbelief.
For his Symphony No. 5 (1902), Mahler imposed a strict injunction on program notes for its first performances to avoid programmatic references to the music. Despite his efforts, Mahlerites like Ernst Otto Nodnagel of Darmstadt published in Die Musik a “musico-metaphysical” analysis of the score in a 23-page article. Later in Boston, the suave sage Philip Hale noted, “The symphony is like unto the great image that stood before Nebuchadnezzar in a vision…”
These insights underscore a contradiction noted when Mahler wrote in 1896, “Beginning with Beethoven, there exists no modern music that hasn’t its inner program.” He also wrote, “My music is everywhere and always only a sound of Nature.” In the context of these analyses, the writer examines this recording of Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 by the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony and how the orchestra captured and expressed the music’s provenance and import.
Conductor David Bernard and the Symphony began the first movement with a magnificently performed trumpet fanfare that led into broad gestures of lofty grandeur, mourning, and agony. Listeners bathed in the tragic, ominous, glorious pathos of the Trauermarsch (funeral march). The ensemble effectively portrayed Mahler’s anguish and futile struggles to discover life’s meaning through music, just as he sought perfection as a composer and martinet conductor.
In the second movement, Stürmisch bewegt, mit größter Vehemenz, the Symphony exhibited its dexterity and aplomb to capture the inferred conflagration and wounds consistent with a terrified, tortured soul withdrawn from the infinite.
The buoyancy of the third movement (Scherzo) provided a welcome respite. The ensemble joyously featured virtuosic solos for horn and winds in a delightful waltz style with its ballet-like themes and celebratory segments.
The ensemble eloquently expressed the lyric ecstasy of the 4th movement Adagietto with its sublime, tranquil theme that arguably and paradoxically possesses the world’s sorrow. The Symphony’s restrained yet passionate musical explication expressed the composer’s immense genius and imagination. Richly scored for harp and strings, the Symphony expressed well the inherent irony and obscure uncertainty coupled with forced jollity. Vesti la giubba Pagliacci, the show must go on!
For the Rondo-Finale Allegro, the Symphony executed the marvelous contrapuntal constructs that prompted Bruno Walter to write, “The world has now a masterpiece which shows its creator at the summit of his life, of his power and of his ability.” The musicians captured the work’s cheerful characterization of the daily labor and alacrity that project the best phases of temporal, mortal existence.
With this performance, the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony has fervidly conquered Mahler’s Symphony No. 5, bringing its ineffable, sumptuous beauty and afflatus to life. When listening, one is philosophically transported through time, space, and existence while envisaging the chimera of eternal questions facing humankind. Bravo!
Park Avenue Chamber Symphony
David Bernard, Conductor
Mahler Symphony No. 5
I. Trauermarsch. In gemessenen Schritt. Streng. Wie ein Kondukt (With measured tread. Strict. Like a procession)
II. Stürmisch bewegt, mit größter Vehemenz (Stormy. With utmost vehemence)
III. Scherzo. Kräftig, nicht zu schnell (Vigorous, not too fast)
IV. Adagietto. Sehr langsam (Very slow)
V. Rondo-Finale. Allegro
Link to Listen
Recursive Classics RC5956731
Park Avenue Chamber Symphony
David Bernard, Music Director
875 5th Ave, New York, NY 10065