Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Mahler 9, final movement: "Adagio"

In recent weeks during August, I have worked on a new rendition: the final movement of Gustav Mahler's 9th Symphony, "Adagio". I got inspired to do this after listening to the BBC Proms concert this summer, where Roger Norrington and the Radio Symphony Orchestra Stuttgart performed this work (a quite positive review is here. This particular performance created a split response from the audience: some loved the "no-nonsense" approach, based on the mantra of Norrington that in Mahler's time there was "no vibrato", others did not like the dry sound. Initially I was also a bit underwhelmed when listening to it on the radio, but when watching the TV performance and seeing the player and the orchestra, it made more sense, and I enjoyed it.

I also know the legendary recording by Bruno Walter in Vienna, January 1938, which to my ears also is a bit in the "no-nonsense" category, with the tempi not too slow but moderately stringent.

These are the only two recordings I knew, and with these in mind I began working on the iconic slow final movement, which has the connotation of "farewell", "good-bye", "Leb wohl", although none of that is written anywhere in the score or in any notes my Mahler.

Since this is a slow movement, it has not so many notes - just 17 pages of score. There are some technical difficulties, those 1/5 notes need to be properly done. I could have attempted playing them live, but since in these segments there are several layers of different note duration fractions overlaid, I decided to do a brute quantization there. I must say that I admire the real orchestra musicians who are able to play these difficult passages.

The overall mood of this music is to be "light", airy, with a chamber-music-like quality to it, despite all the brass and woodwinds (4 flutes!).

My first attempt is here:

Apologies for a few issues with clipping - it is actually not audible, but I see it in the wave analysis. Has to do with simultaneous instrumental attacks which I need to spread slightly to avoid that initial peak.

I hope you like this recording, and I hope that it does not spoil for anyone the enjoyment of this wonderful music - if you do not like my version in particular, there are plenty of excellent "real" orchestra recordings out there!