It has been said of Gergiev’s Mahler performances that they sound too much like Shostakovich, but this criticism completely ignores the reality that Mahler was an important influence on Shostakovich’s symphonic style. The widely held view of Mahler’s music - pantheism overlaid with emotional excess – is not Gergiev’s. Gergiev sees the First Symphony as an extension of German Classicism with links closer to the ‘Sturm und Drang’ (Storm and Stress) movement than to a rural idyll.
Gergiev also finds in Mahler the visceral emotional intensity of the later symphonies of Beethoven. Beethoven was a major influence on Mahler and his emotional insecurity struck a vivid chord, encapsulated in Mahler’s famous quote: ‘I am thrice homeless, as a native of Bohemia in Austria, as an Austrian among Germans, and as a Jew throughout the world. Everywhere an intruder, never welcomed.’ These sentiments – with some modification – could also apply to Shostakovich and his relationship with the Russian State within which he was forced to work.
Great music so often becomes encrusted with performing traditions . For decades it was the received wisdom that Beethoven’s metronome marks were grotesque. There must have been something wrong with Beethoven’s metronome. Now – finally – we know differently. Mahler understood this very well and summed it up with his famous dictum that ‘Tradition ist Schlamperei’ which – roughly translated – means that tradition is the last refuge of the indolent. Mahler had no time for performing traditions.
So, in this performance of the First Symphony Gergiev and the LSO follow the composer’s belief that the best guide to performing his music is to study the text. Everything important is there to tease out the essence of the work that began Mahler’s symphonic journey.
James Mallinson, LSO Live Producer
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