Gidon Kremer and Kremerata Baltica: Gustav Mahler/Dmitri Shostakovich (ECM New Series 2024)

 

Gidon Kremer
Kremerata Baltica
Gustav Mahler/Dmitri Shostakovich

Gidon Kremer
The Kremerata Baltica
Yulia Korpacheva soprano
Fedor Kuznetsov bass
Recorded October 2001 in Riga (Mahler) and November 2004 at Musikverein, Vienna (Shostakovich)
Engineers: Niels Foelster (Mahler) and Martin Leitner (Shostakovich)
Album produced by ECM

All-powerful is death.
It is on guard
even in the hour of happiness.
In the moment of our highest life it suffers in us,
it waits for us and thirsts—
and weeps within us.
–Rainer Maria Rilke

As Inna Barsova has noted, the two symphonies on this massive disc both “share a concern with parting and death.” Each was written in its respective composer’s twilight, and unfolds in varying shades of darkness. Appropriate, then, that we should begin in the throes of the Adagio from Mahler’s unfinished Tenth Symphony (1910). Although originally scored for larger orchestral forces, in this 1971 string version by conductor Hans Stadlmair the young musicians of the Kremerata Baltica find themselves admirably well off. It begins more like a concerto than a symphony, a mournful solo echoing across time. That same quality prevails as the orchestra lifts off its fleet into darkened harbors. This wave repeats itself, each time with greater deference to the tide. “Lush” doesn’t even begin to describe the overwhelming beauty of the strings in full cry. Some crackling moments do crop up, each like an insect dying gracefully on the sands. And as dusky violins streak jade skies with their trembling light, a bold cry issues from the lower strings, pushing ever upward the ether upon which our spirits rest. Cosmic forces spread in earthly tones, leaving behind the faintest traces of an aurora borealis in anticipation of the coming dawn. This music may be unfinished, but it surely lingers.

Shostakovich’s Fourteenth Symphony (1969) for soprano, bass, and chamber orchestra sets texts by Lorca, Apollinaire, Küchelbecker, and Rilke along the contours of some powerful soloists. In this crystal clear live recording, marred slightly by a persistent cough during the most pregnant pauses, Shostakovich’s sense of playful morbidity shines through. This piece may not have the same concentrated sense of narrative (here, more spliced) as his masterful Execution of Stepan Razin, but its effect is still engaging. The operatic slant gives it flair, and the excellent percussion is a joy to behold. The voices are fully invested in their roles, each a fine example of method singing at work.

The music on this disc is about as far from background listening as one can get. It requires us to face the finitude of our mortality, to look closely into its eyes and see ourselves reflected, craning our necks across the gap of time into the infinity that awaits.

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