Mahler, 4 Movements,
P.Järvi / Frankfurt RSO
Paavo Järvi is beginning to rival his father in productivity. He used to be pretty busy with the Estonian NSO (Virgin) and the Cincinnati SO (Telarc). Now he has just finished his stupendous Beethoven Symphony cycle with the Bremen Chamber Philharmonic on RCA, and on Virgin he puts out one recording after another with the Frankfurt RSO. The latest in that line is a disc of four single movements of Mahler. The decision to make the disc was a curious one: Paavo Järvi is an avid record collector (and listener), and he always wanted to have one go-to recording with all the miscellaneous Mahler pieces united in one place. “There wasn’t one, so I made one”, he relates to me with a broad smile. (The interview is at WETA.)
The first movement of Mahler’s Second Symphony was used by the composer as a stand-alone piece under the name of “Totenfeier”. It sounds especially daring with Järvi, partly because it is taken out of the symphony’s framework we are familiar with, and partly because Järvi’s is a particularly care-free rendition, unburdened with having to save anything up for four following movements. In that combination, the composition sounds particularly gutsy, laugh-out-loud daring; heck, it sounds positively ludicrous.
Then follows the Adagio from Symphony No.10, an equally long and imposing first movement that is played well enough, but not as delineated as others—Michael Tilson Thomas’ or Michael Gielen’s, for example. That’s daunting music to follow up with the whimsical “Blumine” movement that was originally part of the First Symphony but got dumped by Mahler after the third performance. I prefer to hear the movement on its own, rather than as part of a Hamburg version of the First Symphony, and I certainly prefer hearing it like this than out of context, tacked on to a performance of the revised, 1906/10 version. It isn’t particularly deep and meaningful Mahler, and that’s how Järvi plays it; like a youthful afterthought.
“What the Wild Flowers Tell Me” is Benjamin Britten’s Mahler-proselytizing orchestration (downsized, for reasons of economy) of the second movement of the Third Symphony. It isn’t Järvi’s performance that is slight, but presumably the difference in orchestral size. But it feels a bit like the producers strained to find something to include after those other three movements, and Britten’s arrangement, conveniently tying in with Blumine on the flower theme, is what they came up with. When I asked him about the CD, Järvi explained the absence of the “Purgatorio” movement, which would have fit in quite nicely, by shrugging his shoulders: “I just don’t relate to that piece”. True, the Purgatorio on its own is small fish and not all that gratifying, but it shows that while Järvi is a record collector, he’s evidently not an obsessive completist.
The sound on Virgin’s previous release with these forces—the Brahms Concerto with Nicholas Angelich—was one of the worst I have heard in any new release, and the Dvořák Cello concerto was marred by a vulgar performance of the soloist. Fortunately there are no such shortcomings here. Points of disgruntlement might be the placing of “Blumine” after the dominating Adagio, or the slack performance of that Adagio and “Wildflowers”… but the bold “Totenfeier” and the airy “Blumine” make up for that, I find.