Originally Posted by PSmith08
Mark: I, too, am always interested to read what you write, as your posts are always interesting, informed, and well-written. If you think Klaus Tennstedt had the ne plus ultra view of Mahler, that's fine, we can agree to disagree. That disagreement could prompt some good discussion.
Mark...come home! Mea culpa!
It's one thing to disagree and then to discuss. It's quite another to issue blanket statements that allow for no discussion room. Don't worry, Patrick, it's not just you. It's all of us, and my little fit of pique has been building up for a while due to many recent sparring matches here at Head Fi (some things never change...)
I want to be here to learn, as there is so much to learn from other people's points of view. Unfortunately, it's all too easy to slip into pugnacious mode where we just pound each other without ever trying to understand what the other person means. (And I have caught myself doing this lately, too, so I'm as guilty as anyone.) But, please, let's try to continue this discussion one more time.
Regarding Tennstedt's view, consider this: When I first heard it years ago, I too thought that it was wrong-- even embarrassingly wrong. But the thought nagged me, and I kept coming back to it in my thoughts. And I kept listening to various performances, particularly Tennstedt's, trying to grasp what on earth he meant. Whatever vagaries one might dismiss about a conductor who was such a maverick (and neurotic) one thing that can't be dismissed is his sincerity. And listening to his performances, there is a basic difference in the sound-world they inhabit. I ultimately think it narrows down to two main ideas:
1) Overly transparent playing removes the flesh of Mahler's symphonies, leaving an emaciated, bony creature without much voluptuousness. This is also related to the Furtwanglerian concept of "precise imprecision". Conductors like Tennstedt or Furtwangler (or-- I suspect-- Mahler himself) had a very precise idea of the atmosphere they wanted in music, and sometimes that atmosphere precluded precise sharp edges. They wanted more shading, more uncertainty, more sonic grime... in other words, not spic-n-span clean playing. (And, yes, Bunny, I am saying that I don't think Mahler wanted the ultimate in accuracy... at least not of the mechanical value expressed by musical notation. I think he wanted the ultimate in human response, something that cannot be expressed by notation at all.) That very imprecision and uncertainty is a huge psychological factor in the interaction of conductor and orchestra. Many conductors rehearse ad nauseum until every last inflection is planned in advance, but the greatest know that such an approach takes so much doubt and mystery out of the performance process that it can leave the orchestra too comfortable. Some imprecision and uncertainty keeps the players alert and forces them to follow the conductor closely. I think Tennstedt's comment has something to do with this.
2) Prettiness is not necessarily equal to beauty. The problem Tennstedt saw with pretty precision is that it can preclude a greater dramatic arsenal of playing techniques. After all, look at the phrasing and tempo of the trumpet tune in the trio of the M9 third movement, Burkleske. It can, and usually is, merely played as a quiet lyrical tune providing contrast from the chaos of the main movement. Tennstedt recognizes, however, that its musical function is more significant than that. The tune also embodies the main motif of the finale's main theme. So he gives it extra "significance" by destabilizing the tempo and has the player play the notes slightly unevenly, so that instead of merely sounding like a pretty lyrical interlude it now sounds like a shaken, shell-shocked attempt at pretty lyricism. Or note the recent recording of M1 by Benjamin Zander. He tried to get the first chair bassist of the Philharmonia to play the opening solo of the third movement in a "grotesque" manner, slightly out of tune and slightly out of tempo. The player refused and played it very prettily indeed. Thus, a highly inflected, rather bizarre expression was completely lost and replaced by a very accurate and very wrong precision. The player can (and has) defended himself by pointing out that he played the score as written. But that score is merely an attempt Mahler made at expressing a dramatic vision so extreme that it frequently stretches beyond the expressive capabilities of a notation system that is inherited from a day when personal inflection was expected to be applied liberally to the basic printed notes.
I think, in sum, that what Tennstedt was getting after was that great musical performance doesn't end with accurate playing of the score. It merely begins there. The artistic demands of the pieces require occasional distortion of normal playing in order to make the emotional points that Mahler was after, thus creating works that aren't always pretty, but are still always beautiful. If you disagree with that and have an entirely other approach to the art of music (which you may well have), please explain it to me in a way that I can enter into your world, even if only briefly. Just please-- I beg of you, and all of us here!-- don't dismiss anyone's hard-won insights with a curt remark that they are wrong.