In the concert hall where he conducted a crushing Walküre three months earlier, Jaap van Zweden kicked off 2020 in an impressive way.
Next to Mahler, Stravinsky was on the programme with his groundbreaking Sacre du Printemps. Mahler and Stravinsky were both composers who, each in their own way, showed ambition to push the music into the future. An ambition that would give shape to repertoire that has lost none of its eloquence after all these years. It is striking that modern classical music often seems conservative in comparison. Nothing to the detriment of Softly Bouncing by Martijn Padding, it's well crafted music but it does not open up new worlds. Sounding soft in a large hall was the starting point for Padding's last composition and he found inspiration for it in Kurtag and Webern. Without penetrating into the intimacy of the musical micro-cosmosses of these two giants, Padding delivered with Softly Bouncing a piece in which out-of-tuned harmonicas, deliberately sounding daft, stripped the sounds of the softly abrasive violins, John Luther Adams came to mind, of an all too profound impression. It was music in which the beauty, pleasantly tickling, in great contrast with the pieces by Mahler and Stravinsky that came afterwards, was of too great a relativization: it was music in which nothing was at stake.
Stürb ich nun ihr, / der so gern ich sterbe,
Were I to give my life to that / for which I would so gladly die
(Tristan und Isolde, love duet, act 2)
"To live for you, to die for you," Mahler wrote in the margin of the score. His wife and muse Alma was having an affair at the time with the young architect Walter Gropius, and love threatened to elude him along with life, as he had been diagnosed with heart failure. At this concert the Concertgebouw Orchestra played for the first time in more than 95 years the orchestrations that Willem Mengelberg, at Alma Mahler's request, made of the first and third movements of Mahler's unfinished Tenth. Together with composer and assistant conductor Cornelis Dopper, Mengelberg added percussion to the Adagio, doubled some parts, especially in the strings, and added some notes to the Purgatorio. Compared to the performances that are generally known, whether or not as part of the completed version that Deryk Cooke made of the Tenth, the result is not that world-shattering different. Mengelberg, perhaps the most important ambassador for Mahler's music ever, left behind few Mahler recordings (the Adagietto from the Fifth and a complete Fourth symphony). His Mahler arrangements, in which he gives, in places, extra body to Mahler's original score, remind us of those reviews - from the beginning of the 20th century, from before the time of recorded sound - that report of performances in which Mengelberg made Mahler's music sound more Mahlerian than when Mahler conducted his own music.
Concertgebouw Amsterdam, 9 January 2020 (second concert in a series of three)
Padding - Softly Bouncing (wereldpremiere)
Mahler - Adagio ('Symfonie nr. 10 in Fis') (version Willem Mengelberg - 1924)
Mahler - Purgatorio ('Symfonie nr. 10 in Fis') ((version Willem Mengelberg - 1924)
Stravinsky - Le sacre du printemps
Concertgebouworkest led by Jaap van Zweden