Friday, October 09, 2009

Glorious Messes

Some pieces you love for their brilliant construction, some you love in spite of the fact that they needed an editor, or something. Mahler falls into the latter category for me. In the right hands, the incredible beauty and intensity of a Mahler symphony conquer all - and I just heard a gorgeous performance of the 2nd, on Bartok Radio.

How about you? Favorite messes?

16 comments:

Edmund G. Brown, Jr. said...

Gershwin: Piano Concerto in F

Love it, but understand some people's criticism of its structure (or lack thereof).

sfmike said...

I just heard the Mahler 2nd on Bartok Radio too. Since I don't speak any Hungarian I have no idea who played and sang in it, but you're right, it was really wonderful.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Here's the listing from the schedule page:

Vezényel: Thomas Dausgaard, közreműködik: Inger Dam-Jensen, Iris Vermillion - ének, valamint a Dán Rádió Énekkara és a Dán Nemzeti Énekegyüttes
1. Per Norgard: VII. szimfónia (bemutató),
2. Mahler: II. szimfónia (Dam-Jensen, Vermillion, énekkarok)
(Dán Rádió hangversenyterme, Koppenhága, január 29.)

At least that makes the conductor and singers clear!

Michael Walsh said...

Mahler did say that a symphony should represent everything in the world, and I guess that includes the distracting and less interesting parts, apparently. It's a challenge for the conductor to be the editor from the podium and to keep the main thread alive through the various side trips the music takes. Well worth it when done right.

Rachmaninoff's Second Symphony is a work regarded as a sprawling mess, but that's from people who've mostly heard the cut version. The full work, which clocks in at 72 minutes, is glorious when you hear the whole thing. Passages that sounded out of place before are redeemed by repetitions that balance and satisfy, and should never have been cut in the first place, even though the composer himself sanctioned them. This work is like that 800-page trashy novel you read on vacation; it only works when you leap in and indulge yourself.

Joe Barron said...

Just about anything by Charles Ives ...

Tim said...

Elgar's Violin Concerto? Gawd what a piece!

Lisa Hirsch said...

Have never heard the Elgar! Anyone want to make recommendations on performances?

Cody Loyd said...

Messiaen's Turangalila Symphony. Fantastic!

Robert F. Jones said...

I'll give you three: 1.Berlioz, Benvenuto Cellini; 2. Tippett, The Midsummer Marriage; and 3., the übermess, Bernstein's Mass.

Michael Walsh said...

I thought about this topic on the commute home and realized many of my favorite works qualify. I'll exclude lesser-known composers, or I'd have to include things like Amy Beach's piano concerto...

Dukas' Symphony, beautiful, luxurious, and nearly ready to fall off the table at any moment. The coda of the first movement strays far enough that the composer borrows the Sorcerer (from that other piece) to bring it to an end.

Dvorak's Third and Fifth Symphonies are also very indulgent works, the former being something of an homage to Wagner and destined for glorious messiness, and the latter being a good precursor of the mature Dvorak, but with no editorial control whatsoever.

The Goyescas of Hector Granados are so overstuffed with ornamentation that it takes the brilliance of Alicia de Larrocha to make any sense of them.

It feels like a cheat to nominate symphonic poems, or Scheherezade would have been the first to mind. I think there is an expectation of structure to qualify it as a "mess". But just about all of Richard Strauss' work is in the spirit here, and the Burleske for piano and orchestra, a 21-minute scherzo has to be included.

Tim said...

Lisa, everyone should have a copy of Yehudi Menuhin performing the Elgar, with the composer conducting. Of course, it's very old. Nigel Kennedy's recording won the Gramophone best record award awhile ago.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Mike, you once played part of that Beach concerto at my house - if it's anything like her Piano Quintet, please, never again. I heard the Chamber Music Soc. of Lincoln Center play the Quintet earlier this year and it was easily the worst piece of music I've heard played by professional musicians, ever.

Your mention of R. Strauss forces me to list Die Frau ohne Schatten, which I love but with huge reservations.

Tim, I have a high tolerance for old recordings - I listen to the Mapleson Cylinders for fun. I bet that performance is on the new EMI set Composers in Person, 22 CDs of composers performing or conducting their own music.

Cody, I love Turangalila but am not sure I'd call it a mess!

Robert, oh, yeah, the Bernstein.

Cody Loyd said...

To me Turangalila is like a controlled building imposion. Everything is neatly planned, the explosives are painstakingly carefully placed... but in the end its still an explosion. (A very satisfying one at that)

Lisa Hirsch said...

Cody, I'll buy that. :)

Saint Russell said...

(Late comment after a few days on the road.) The Gershwin concerto was the first thing that came to my mind. Formal problems, yes, but who could improve it with cuts? Better to take it for what it is.

Yes, the EMI Composers In Person set has the Menuhin/Elgar. A modern recording that I think is up there with the very best: Hilary Hahn on DG, with Colin Davis and the LSO.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Some messes are not improved by cutting. I've read that Meyerbeer's operas, though long, seem longer when cut because they lose some coherence. OTOH, I've never heard a complete Meyerbeer opera, cut or un.