I have just heard a Mahler track that made me want to throw up.
Believe me, I have heard a lot of rotten performances and am not often queasy that way, but the opening track of Decca’s Illumina: Music of Light – a curate’s breakfast of an Easter egg – turned me green and puce in that order, physically ill.
The project takes the Adagietto from Mahler’s fifth symphony and sets it to the words of Ave Maria.
Why? No earthly reason; the words don’t even fit.
Mahler wrote the piece as a love letter to his fiancée, Alma. It is wordless, troubling and full of contradictions. Turning it into a Christian prayer distorts art and perverts religion.
My advance copy of this seasonal release has no credits. If it did I would name and shame every single stupid one of them.
The choir is that of New College Oxford. The director should be sent back to school.
UPDATE: Various sensitive souls in Oxford have protested that this post was abrupt and discourteous. Abrupt, perhaps. There is no point in offering sensible discussion of a recording that violates everything the composer intended. Mahler’s ideas for the Adagietto are summarised in my book Why Mahler? pp. 138-9.
The work has no religious connotation whatsoever. To overlay it with the words of ‘Ave Maria’ is foolish, arrogant and culturally offensive. It verges on cultural vandalism. I feel no need to be polite about that. If the sensitive scholars of New College feel insulted by my comments, let them do a little homework in future. Oxford purports, after all, to offer an education.