Norman Lebrecht on shifting sound worlds
Who knew? Very interesting tempi.
Sounds like how Boulez would conduct it, !! Stodgy, uninvolved, no character, no pathos, etc, etc
Yes, stodgy, uninvolved, no character, no pathos, etc. etc… In other words: the way Mahler wanted it and Schoenberg heard it in Vienna. Without any kitschy hollywoodian romantic bad taste…
You have to listen beyond the first minute or so. The movement begins appropriately lazily laid back (“gemütlich”), but there is a lot of of nuance of tempo, rhythm and phrasing packed into this brief performance, and some highly engaged, at times almost furious playing (see e.g. around 5:00). This is all the more impressive since Schoenberg was able to achieve all this with what sounds like a fairly mediocre pickup orchestra, as far as one can tell through the surface noise.
It is important to note that all musicians of whom we have recordings who actually knew Mahler (Walter, Klemperer, Fried, Schoenberg) conducted his music in a rather straightforward, yet highly nuanced style, rather than the overwrought and histrionic style that some mistake for “authentic Mahler”.
You should check out Mengelberg conducting Mahler for an insight into the performance practices of Mahler nearer that time. I am not advocating it, just as a curiosity.
A “fairly mediocre pickup orchestra”? This is the NBC Symphony and it sounds anything but mediocre! Anything but uninvolved and characterless too, by the way.
Any word on the source of this recording?
I don’t buy it.
There is a lot of hucksterism going around with this stuff.
Like the interpretation very much. As light as a feather.
Agree, not sure why Norman would call the tempi “very interesting”. Sounds “somewhat normal” to me.
Any details on this radio broadcast? Year? Orchestra?
Cadillac Symphony, Los Angeles. Concert also included music from Arnold’s Gurrelieder.
Check out an interesting study of Schoenberg as conductor at
But please be careful of your comments about this lovely performance. Yes, it is not a perfect modern recording with every note in place and with metronomic strict rhythm. That’s quite beside the point. The way orchestras naturally used portamento in this days and their free and natural way with rubato is so refreshing and feels organic. It’s very hard for even the best of orchestras today to play music of this period (I’ve encountered this with Delius’ music as well) with the right tone and liberal rhythm.
I think Schoenberg does a fine and memorable job with a pick-up orchestra that probably did not know any of this music very well.
I have no doubt this item is authentic:
Yep, I am convinced. Fascinating!
Fascinating! I agree with Mr. Punt, and cannot agree with Mr. Gleeson. This strikes me as carefully considered, in the extreme. Not particularly spontaneous but a rather unique view of the music. I was not aware that Schoenberg ever conducted . . . .
I think this is totally endearing. Only Fried’s recording of the 2nd had appeared by 1934, so (most of) AS’s audience would have found this isolated movement a complete novelty (a pawky waltz with some violent tendencies). They liked it!
Why don’t radio announcers sound this any more, either?
“Carefully considered, in the extreme” . Exactly!
Without the polish of times and featherlight touching of commerce and massproduction, this performance is intriguing and propably nearby the rough feelings of Mahler… and certainly nearby Schoenberg himself. Thanks for sharing.
‘propably nearby the rough feelings of Mahler’.
Tss, a fact is: Schoenberg was one of the men who knew Mahler closer (certainly than we do). But indeed, who are we to judge? Our words are rubbish soon; let’s just listen and enjoy the interpretations. Greetings.
Mengelberg copies Mahler’s speeds and nuances in his recording of the 4th.
A million miles away from Schoenberg’s approach then!
Well, extraordinary, and to my ear and mind a minor revelation. Thank you for bringing it to our attention Mr Lebrecht. How did this manage to escape your eagle eye before now? Despite the obvious imperfections it is a highly considered and insightful performance. It’s not schmaltzy which is wonderful. A pretty memorable performance I would say.
Interesting that Louis Krasner’s name appears in the production note to the recording.
‘Recorded: New York, NY, 7 Apr. 1934 (Fisher commentary recorded in Detroit, MI). From four 2-sided aluminum discs recorded off the air by Broadcast Producers of New York, Inc. for Louis Krasner.’
Who’s own performance of the Berg Violin Concerto conducted by Anton Webern was something of a discovery too when it appeared on the Testament label some years ago.
I would have loved to be there. I bet it was thrilling.
My favorite Mahler performance, without exception. Even Mahler can be refreshing and charming; I usually only hear this in his songs with piano, when a conductor cannot ruin the ideas by giving them too much schmalz. The tempo of the moving figure was obviously chosen to make sense of the soaring woodwind melody above it; its timing is perfect. I doubt very much that he wanted the sappy string playing; he complained about that; that is probably the “nach Hollywood Art” that he wrote out of his own scores once he worked in Hollywood. The ritard at 6:25 is well controlled. I thought the ritard at 7:25 was overdone until I understood that the first pizzicato note is supposed to be funny. Also, through timing, the use of pizzicato is itself an invention. The cross-accents at 8:35 are also well done, and with charm. The string players really are good, just too sentimental. As a conductor apparently Schoenberg wanted events to make local sense, very reasonable. The movement’s turning-note figure is its liability; it was prudent of Schoenberg not to allow too much to be made of it.
This is truly stupendous. In all likely this was a first hearing for most listeners, and the musicians as well. No edits, just expression of Mahler’s wishes through Schoenberg’s lens.
Modern conductors have no idea what to do with this music.
This was great! It’s very fluid, musical, nuanced. The well-controlled, and natural, fluctuations in tempo are wonderful. The string portamento doesn’t bother me a bit. This is anything but Boulez-like. Too bad there aren’t conductors out there who can do something like this, but Schoenberg was a genius and a composer and that makes all the difference. No Dudamel, Rattle, or (take your pick) will ever understand this music the way people of Schoenberg’s generation did. And then, if any conductor were to turn in a performance like this today, he’d be laughed off the stage (or cd player) and beaten senseless by the critics.
Author, novelist, broadcaster, cultural commentator.
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