W.A.M., Flute Concertos 1 & 2, Cto. for Flute & Harp,
Emmanuel Pahud / C.Abbado / BPh
Hans Rott, Sy. No.1 + Orchestral Prelude, Julius Caesar Overture,
Sebastian Weigle / Munich RSO
A little decoagulation-Overture to warm up with—from Mozart’s “Abduction from the Seraglio” (with J.A.André’s ending for in-concert use)—and then the populist draw of the evening: A Mozart Flute Concerto (KV 313) with Emanuel Pahud. The work posits this question: Is it possible to write about Mozart flute concertos and not mention that Mozart hated the flute?
Emmanuel Pahud’s tone—dry, airless, with superbly enunciated notes and a touch of Purell—awed duly, but the concerto didn’t rise above routined excellence. To be more to the point: even the surprise squeaks from the horns didn’t make this self-satisfied performance any less boring. But why waste time with the stuffing when there was a glorious Turkey to be heard: Hans Rott’s first and only symphony, and the reason I had traveled to Frankfurt in the first place.
I don’t remember how I first came across this Symphony in E, but it was at a time when I was already receptive for Rott’s mix of Wagner, Bruckner, and—so I would have thought—Mahler. It turns out that the 19 year old composer’s audacious work, though heavily indebted to the first two composers as well as Brahms and Schumann, didn’t copy anything from Mahler. Mahler copied from Rott, his fellow student-colleague. “In today’s world”, Paavo Järvi said to me earlier, “Mahler would be sued for plagiarism.” (See interview on WETA.) Complete phrases, the treatment of the chorales—they are all there in Mahler’s Second Symphony or the opening of the First Symphony’s second movement. “You’ve got the Scherzo: daa Bum, baa Bum-da-dam, bum-da-da-da-dam… I mean, really!” Järvi is almost amused at the chutzpah Mahler displayed in lifting ideas from Rott.
Now, in concert, it is easy to be amazed, impressed, and flabbergasted by the work. Rott is all too quick to pull out all the registers at once, like a young man freshly infatuated with the organ and drunk on his own sound. And with the many, prolonged climaxes, there comes the triangle. And once it comes, it never leaves. It’s as if Rott had forgotten how to switch off the triangle machine. A cause for in-concert merriment, but not necessarily a highlight of the symphony, except for the triangle player who finally has to put in his salary’s worth in effort. The sudden pizzicato waltz scene, followed immediately by a wildly crashing orchestral romp, is another one of those moves later associated with Mahler.
Calling the work the missing link between Bruckner and Mahler might be going too far, though—there simply isn’t enough of the humble repose of Bruckner yet; Rott is too much a boy getting excited in the orchestra shop. And as things go under way, he seems to yell to the musicians: You get a solo. And you get a solo. And you get a solo. Everybody gets a solo. Add the false endings (errant applause is almost guaranteed before the Fugue of the finale) and the Wagner piled upon Brahms piled upon Aida-esque grandiosity, and you have a positively ludicrous orchestral fun-house with a built-in ‘name that quote’ game. Impossible not to love!
If the recording sessions earlier that morning went a little better than the performance in the evening—the trumpet opening wasn’t terribly secure and the balance was a little awkward in the first movement and the strings initially stiff—then the ultimately hair-raising, over-the-top performance of the Frankfurt (actually: Hesse) Radio Symphony Orchestra should be a front runner among the Rott recordings, surpassing even the current top-dog, Sebastian Weigle with the Munich Radio Symphony Orchestra on Arte Nova.