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ClassicsOnline Home » MAHLER, G.: Symphonies Nos. 6, "Tragic" and No. 8, "Symphony of a Thousand" (Flipse) (1954-1955)
Great Conductors: Eduard Flipse (1896–1973)
MAHLER: Symphonies Nos. 6 and 8
Annelies Kupper soprano I – Magna Peccatrix
Hilde Zadek soprano II – Una Poenitentium
Corry Bijster soprano III – Mater Gloriosa
Annie Hermes contralto I – Mulier Samaritana
Lore Fischer contralto II – Maria Aegyptiaca
Lorenz Fehenberger tenor – Doctor Marianus
Herman Schey baritone – Pater Ecstaticus
Gottlob Frick bass – Pater Profundis
Combined Rotterdam Choirs
Recorded 3 July 1954 at the Holland Festival
First issued on Philips A 00226/7
Eduard Flipse / Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra
Reissue Producer and Audio Restoration Engineer Mark Obert-Thorn
Special thanks to Nathan Brown, Charles Niss and Don Tait for providing source material
Anyone objectively preparing a list of great conductors is unlikely to include or even think of Eduard Flipse, the Dutch conductor born in 1896, who died in 1973. He was an adventurous musician, a champion of contemporary Dutch composers and someone who was conducting Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring and Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto at the earliest opportunity. Flipse enjoyed a long tenure as Principal Conductor of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, from 1930 to 1962, which was followed by a shorter spell at the Antwerp Philharmonic Orchestra, from 1961 to 1970.
Flipse was born into an artistic family. His grandfather was a goldsmith and his father, when away from his occupation as a tailor, was a church organist and a conductor of choirs. Eduard followed his father with these musical activities. In his early student days Flipse was aware of the music that was contemporary to him, not least by Ravel and Debussy, and he would take lessons with the composer Albert Roussel in Paris where he became acquainted with such figures as Darius Milhaud, Arthur Honegger and Francis Poulenc. Flipse also graduated as a talented pianist, establishing himself in Rotterdam as a piano teacher and choral conductor. His training had been thorough and was completed by his appointment as the ‘second conductor’ of the Rotterdam Philharmonic for three years before he was elected its Principal Conductor.
Flipse was an adventurous programmer as well as a stoic defender and re-builder of his Rotterdam orchestra during the Nazi-occupied war years, not least in 1940 when Allied bombing destroyed the Rotterdam Philharmonic’s library and numerous instruments, yet within a month the orchestra and Flipse were giving outdoor concerts to provide spiritual nourishment for the city. Nevertheless, having remained loyal to the Philharmonic musicians, but with a possible association to a league of people that had supported the German army in Russia tarnishing his reputation, Flipse’s position was questioned and after the war he was banned from conducting until 5 May 1948, a decision that was successfully appealed against in November 1946.
On this release, Flipse is heard conducting two of Mahler’s symphonies at concert performances. From the 1955 Holland Festival, Symphony No. 6 receives a serious, determined and searching account, some infelicities of playing notwithstanding. If the non-repeat of the first movement’s exposition disappoints, Flipse’s tempo, which evinces a sense of struggle, is apt, and allows paragraphs of contrasted music to emerge as a symphonic design. With any temptation to sensationalise the music avoided, the first movement emerges in triumph with no glibness yet also with no lack of variety. There follows the slow movement, surely the correct place for this deeply beautiful and ecstatic creation, treated here by Flipse as a flowing and serene meditation after the eventual triumph of the first movement.
Yet, the positioning of the middle movements has long been the subject of debate. Before Symphony No. 6 was given its first performance, folio and study scores were published, which documented the middle movement order as Scherzo-Andante. Three weeks before the première, Mahler had the symphony read through in Vienna under his direction, when he then decided that the correct middle-movement order should be Andante–Scherzo. Mahler conducted the world première in Essen on 27 May 1906, with the middle movements given in the order of Andante–Scherzo. Mahler also instructed publishers C.F. Kahnt to insert an erratum slip into the unsold copies of the score detailing the correct movement order, and to republish the scores and booklet with the approved order, which Kahnt did in November 1906. It may be taken that Mahler was now definitive as to the Andante-Scherzo order. The earliest performances of the Sixth, under Mahler and other conductors, all had the slow movement placed second. In 1916, Willem Mengelberg, one of Mahler’s most famous champions, had conducted the Dutch première of the Sixth, also with the Andante second. A few years later, when proposing a second performance, the conductor asked his cousin Karel to write the programme note. Karel found a copy of the original score with the erratum slip missing and queried the correct order of the middle movements. The conductor telegraphed Alma, Mahler’s widow (who is portrayed musically as the second subject of the first movement of the Sixth Symphony). Her reply, “first Scherzo, then Andante”, was taken by Willem Mengelberg as justification enough to change the composer’s explicit instructions to Scherzo-Andante. Yet Mahler himself always conducted the middle movements in the order of Andante-Scherzo, the order that Flipse here retains in 1955, but in just a few years time from then, in 1963, the first editor of the Critical Edition of the International Gustav Mahler Society, Erwin Ratz, would publish the Sixth with the Scherzo placed second.
Continuing with Flipse’s performance, the correctly placed Scherzo, as the third movement, is given with earthly pleasure and musical adeptness that avoids some sections seeming static. The vast finale, the hero’s doom, when he (Mahler being very subjective and fatalistic) is finally struck down, is brought off with gripping deliberation, apprehension and optimism entwined, the protagonist battling off foes until defeat is fully stared in the face. Although the recorded sound of this performance may be limited and the playing not in the super-virtuoso league, it says much for Flipse’s focused conducting and his appreciation of the music that this account of Mahler’s Sixth Symphony so absorbs the attention, crucial tempos and tempo-relationships in particular being particularly well judged.
From a year earlier is music that is an even greater challenge to the broadcast technology of the time, Gustav’s Mahler’s Symphony No. 8, the so-called Symphony of a Thousand, which had first been heard in Munich on 12 September 1910 with the composer conducting, who would also lead a second performance on the following day. The work’s sobriquet was the invention of Mahler’s publicist and did not enchant the composer; nevertheless the nickname has stuck to this very ambitious work. At those first performances there were two choruses of 250 each, with 350 children, and an orchestra of 146 players. Add in the required eight vocal soloists for a total of 1,004 musicians. This is Mahler’s oratorio symphony (Das Lied von der Erde is his song-cycle symphony), the first movement concerned with the power of creation, the second (a setting of the final scene of Goethe’s Faust) to do with human love. The words for the first movement are from a medieval text, Veni, Creator Spiritus, Mahler’s setting of the original Latin (initiated by an organ) striding forward, reflecting as appropriate, and transforming to blazing drama and a transcendental conclusion. If the first movement may be akin to a choral symphony on its own terms, Symphony No. 8’s second (and last) movement is the oratorical part of the work in which the soloists are kept busy, yet Mahler is also clearly demarcating a slow movement, scherzo and finale within the overall structure, the latter not far removed from the effect of its counterpart in Symphony No. 2 (Resurrection) and which Mahler described (to Mengelberg) thus: “Try to imagine the whole universe beginning to ring and resound. These are no longer human voices, but planets and suns revolving.” As a whole, this movement traces from dark to light, from the secluded, through Faust’s redemption, and to a final divine vision—and to emphasize that this is indeed a symphony, music from the opening movement returns to conclude the work.
There is real fervency in this performance, the music then rare, a special occasion, and one senses that all those taking part were possessed by it. Flipse leads a flexible and glowing account, one that is also very attentive to details and points of articulation, leading to a wonderfully majestic and jubilant projection of the first movement’s final bars. The vast Goethe-inspired second movement radiates atmosphere, a journey of significance, unerringly charted by Flipse, sometimes with stillness, sometimes with urgency, but bound by musical logic all leading to the life-enhancing and—pace Mahler—inter-planetary elation. Today Mahler symphonies come at us from every angle—something to relish or to be deplored—but it says something that more than fifty years later, Eduard Flipse and his performers show a perception of and devotion to these two Mahler symphonies that remains with something personal and revealing to impart.
The live recording of the Eighth Symphony has several flaws in the master tape, including one noticeable edit (from a rehearsal or another performance) just before the chorus’ final peroration in Part II, and two instances of momentary pitch fluctuation.In addition, there is a momentary dropout on the original tape toward the end of the Sixth Symphony; and during the quiet passages of Part II of the Eighth, birds can be heard chirping in the background—a touch that probably would have delighted the nature-loving Mahler.
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MAHLER, G.: Symphonies Nos. 6, "Tragic" and No. 8,...