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Keeping Score - Mahler: Origins and Legacy /Tilson Thomas, San Francisco Symphony

Mahler / Hampson / Sfs / Thomas
Release Date: 05/10/2011 
Label:  Sfs Media (Dvd)   Catalog #: 60041  
Composer:  Gustav Mahler
Conductor:  Michael Tilson Thomas
Orchestra/Ensemble:  San Francisco Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Also available on Blu-ray

From the sounds outside his bedroom window—a kind of sonic goulash of military marches, ethnic dance bands, church bells, ritual prayer, and nature itself—Gustav Mahler created an entire universe of emotion in music. In an astonishingly productive twenty-five years, he fashioned ten symphonies and 45 songs of cosmic scale, great beauty, and jarring emotional twists and turns. And he did it all in the brief moments he could spare from his day job as one of Europe’s preeminent conductors. In Gustav Mahler: Origins and Legacy, Michael Tilson Thomas returns to the provincial Austro-Hungarian city of Mahler’s childhood, and bears witness to his
Read more grand achievements, great sorrows, and daring musical explorations into the depths of the human soul. Join MTT and the San Francisco Symphony as they trace Mahler’s rise as a young conductor, his career-crowning appointments in Vienna and New York, his turbulent marriage and the sudden, tragic death of his daughter—and show how his stormy inner life inspired new and ever-more heartbreaking heights of creativity.

This two-DVD set features one disc containing two concert performances, with Tilson Thomas leading the San Francisco Symphony in Mahler Symphony No. 1 and “A Mahler Journey,” and one disc with the 1 hour, 53-minute theatrical version of the documentary, which encompasses both the Origins and Legacy segments. Both the documentary and the concert performances are captured in full High Definition.

Disc 1

Gustav Mahler: Origins and Legacy

SFS Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas journeys to rural Bohemia to rediscover the inspirations of Mahler’s music, and traces Mahler’s life through the premiere of his first symphony in 1888. It shocked the contemporary audience, but as MTT and the San Francisco Symphony reveal, on location and in performance, this ground-breaking symphony contains elements of everything else that Mahler composed. From there MTT examines Mahler’s creative growth, from the 1890s to his death at the age of 51 on May 18, 1911, including his symphonies, the Rückert songs and Das Lied von der Erde. The documentary charts Mahler’s mercurial career as a conductor, from the Vienna Opera to Carnegie Hall in New York, as well as his tempestuous relationship with his wife Alma. At Mahler’s simple grave in a Grinzing cemetery, MTT explains why Mahler has so profoundly affected his own life. Shot on location in the Czech Republic, Austria, New York, and in performance in San Francisco’s Davies Symphony Hall.

Disc 2

Mahler: Symphony No. 1 in D Major in Concert

Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony perform Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, Titan. The program was taped as part of the SFS’s Mahler Festival in Davies Symphony Hall in September and October of 2009.

"A Mahler Journey"

This concert includes the pivotal repertoire explored in "Gustav Mahler: Legacy." World-renowned baritone Thomas Hampson, a noted interpreter of Mahler’s songs, is featured performing Songs of a Wayfarer. The program also includes Mahler’s famous and poignant love song, Adagietto from Symphony No. 5, the Scherzo from Symphony No. 7 in E minor and the Rondo Burleske from Symphony No. 9 in D major. The program was taped as part of the SFS’s Mahler Festival in Davies Symphony Hall in September and October of 2009.

Presented in High Definition 16:9 widescreen and 5.1 surround sound or 7.1 Dolby TrueHD.

Subtitles in English, French, German, Spanish, Chinese (traditional and simplified), and Korean.

Region 1; NTSC.

R E V I E W:


MAHLER Symphony No. 1. Symphony No. 5: Adagietto. Symphony No. 7: Scherzo. Symphony No. 9: Rondo-Burleske. Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen & Michael Tilson Thomas, cond; Thomas Hampson (bar); San Francisco SO SFS MEDIA 8 21936-0042-9-6 (2 Blu-ray discs: 227:00); 8 21936-0041-9-7 (2 DVDs: 227:00) Live: San Francisco 9/2009

& Mahler: Origins and Legacy

This two-disc set comprises a special edition of the MTT/SFSO Keeping Score series, in this case devoted to a comprehensive video biography of Mahler accompanied by concert performances of the works listed above. Michael Tilson Thomas has chosen to crown the much-praised Mahler Project with this video presentation in commemoration of the twin anniversaries of Mahler’s birth and death. As before in the series, the biographical programs, herein titled Mahler: Origins and Legacy , serve to place the concert performances in context. This program, however, differs from the others in the scope of the background material and in the number of pieces featured in the concert portion.

There are two things that set the documentaries in this series apart from most garden-variety biographies: the location filming, which often takes the viewer to places inaccessible otherwise, and the musical insights of Michael Tilson Thomas. In several of the programs, MTT provides a personal connection to the composer or the composition under consideration; in this case, it was hearing Das Lied von der Erde at the age of 13, and particularly “Der Abschied,” whose evocation of loneliness and longing made a strong impression on the adolescent proto-conductor. There follow personal observations on their own “Mahler moments” from architect Frank Gehry, actor Patrick Stewart, and musicians Susan Graham and Yo-Yo Ma.

The rest of the documentary program follows Mahler’s life from its beginnings in Bohemia to the various opera posts that led inevitably to Vienna and success, and then the succession of tragedies that drove the composer to newer pastures in the New World, and his subsequent dissolution and death. The location filming provides Tilson Thomas with the opportunity to make the first of several insightful analyses: The layout of Jihlava, Mahler’s Iglau, provides a sort of map to the First Symphony, which is then explicated in detail. While the impact of Mahler’s youthful environment on his music has been thoroughly explored, the images and sonic goulash from which Mahler drew inspiration are fresh and interesting as presented here. For instance, the traditional Song of the Postillion appears as the main theme in the second movement of the First Symphony, while the well-known epigraph “death march in the manner of Callot” for the third movement is also a reference to the tales of E. T. A. Hoffmann, who expected that his readers would understand that his writings were “fantasy pieces in the manner of Callot,” referring to Jacques Callot, the Baroque print-maker and caricaturist.

From these early threads, Tilson Thomas examines various individual movements from the symphonies to illuminate Mahler’s progressive technique. The Scherzo of No. 7 begins in close-up with its gloss on “Ablösung im Sommer” (in an excerpt sung by Thomas Hampson), but widens its perspective first to a hunt on horseback, and then to the more ethereal realm evoked by the distant posthorn. The Adagietto from the Fifth Symphony is related to “Liebst du um Schönheit” as a love letter to Alma and to “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen,” its musical cousin. The Scherzo of the Seventh Symphony finds Mahler in a “zany” mood, with “splutters of instruments playing outside their comfort zones.”

After the annus horribilis of 1907, we follow Mahler first to New York, and then back to his beloved mountains and the last of his composing häuschen in Toblach. Tilson Thomas explores the “turn” motive, a musically ambiguous phrase found in several of Mahler’s works, and thereby connects the first of the Wayfarer songs to “Der Abschied” as well as to the final moments of the finale of the Ninth Symphony. This last is presented in a beautifully staged montage, as Thomas Hampson sings, very slowly, the opening phrases of the song as the last bars of the symphony are heard simultaneously. In a sort of coda, Mahler’s last work, the unfinished Tenth, is related through its orchestral scream on A to the otherworldly A that opens the First Symphony, coming full circle again. The documentary ends with Tilson Thomas leaving roses at the foot of Mahler’s grave.

The concert disc is really two concerts. The first is a complete performance of the First Symphony. There is remarkably little difference between this new performance and the one recorded in 2001 and issued as the second installment of the Mahler Project. The first movement is all bloom and song; the second communicates youthful swagger as well as graceful lilt. The funeral march captures perfectly all of Mahler’s crazy amalgam of sharp satire, schmaltzy nostalgia, and true tenderness, and the finale makes its thunderous entrance, eventually knitting the whole thing together in a blaze of triumph. It’s especially thrilling to see the eight horns standing as they contend with the trumpets for dominance. Throughout, the sound is of the floorboard-shaking variety. I give the edge to the Blu-ray, which is simply amazing, but the DVD is as impressive as the sound on Claudio Abbado’s Lucerne Festival recording on EuroArts.

The second concert consists of the Wayfarer songs and the three “bleeding chunks” in lieu of a complete symphony. The conductor gives a brief introduction from the podium before each performance. Hampson’s performance of the Wayfarer songs is presumably the same one included in the recent SFSO CD of Mahler’s orchestral songs ( Fanfare 34:3), having been taped in September of 2009. Watching this supremely gifted Mahlerian is an added attraction, as is the extremely detailed and full-bodied sound on the Blu-ray disc.

The Adagietto is arguably an appropriate choice on its own, having been performed separately countless times. Tilson Thomas’s performance, slightly longer than the one on his SFSO CD, works well as a stand-alone piece, the moderate but fluid pace adding to its gravitas. The Seventh Symphony is one of Mahler’s most congenial works for MTT, with two outstanding CDs to his credit. The performance of the Scherzo here is grotesque, funny, and poignant by turns, and the sound production is even more impressive than the SFS Media SACD.

Tilson Thomas characterizes the Rondo-Burleske of the Ninth Symphony as an example of self-parody. I would respectfully disagree, citing Mahler’s inscription “to my brothers in Apollo” on the autograph score. This is usually interpreted as an answer to those critics who chastised Mahler for his lack of sophistication, giving them a furious dose of counterpoint in one of his most ruthless movements. If one includes Mahler himself in the “brotherhood,” I suppose I can see an element of self-parody; but the sharpest barbs are definitely directed elsewhere.

I can recommend these videos equally for their excellent biographical information and for the superb concerts. Those with Blu-ray equipment are in for a special treat, but even the DVD is superior to most video productions of Mahler’s music. These videos are a splendid appendix (or perhaps coda is better) to the indispensible MTT/SFSO Mahler collection.

FANFARE: Christopher Abbot
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 1 in D major "Titan" by Gustav Mahler
Conductor:  Michael Tilson Thomas
Orchestra/Ensemble:  San Francisco Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1888/1896 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 MTT - Does it again. December 10, 2011 By Luke Bryant (Oakleigh South, Victoria) See All My Reviews "All Mahlers recorded works under the direction Of Michael Tilson-Thomas, both SACD and DVD are not to be missed. All recordings stand out as supurb examples of musical understanding, very fine playing with recording quality the highest. The San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and its technical team continue producing only the bsst. If you like Mahler, do not miss this fine series of recorded masterpieces - and if you are not sure. well, give it a go. Luke Bryant - Australia." Report Abuse
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