Manfred Honeck conducts Mozart and Mahler,
reviewed by GIUSEPPE PENNISI
From 3-5 May, the well known and respected Austrian conductor Manfred Honeck — at present principal director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra — brought a rather unusual concert to Rome: the last of Mozart's Symphonies (No 41 in C major, generally named Jupiter) with the first of Mahler's Symphonies (in D major, sometimes called the Titan after a novel which reportedly inspired the composer). This review is based on the much applauded 3 May 2015 performance. The concert was performed in the huge three-thousand seat Santa Cecilia Hall by the Symphony Orchestra of the Saint Cecilia National Academy.
The program is less unusual than it may look at a superficial view. The Jupiter Symphony (premiered 1788, Vienna) is not only the last symphonic work by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart but also the first Austrian symphony dense with romantic premonitions. In its final form, Mahler's Symphony No 1 (1895, Berlin) is not only the first milestone of 'late romanticism' in the German musical world but has the germs of twentieth century music. Pierre Boulez remarked that he found inspiration and lessons in Mahler's Symphony No 1, and that it began a journey along a road leading to György Ligeti, Krzysztof Penderecki, Gérard Grisey and Tristan Murail — thus to very modern expression of both Middle-European music and French 'spectral music'. Thus, Honeck offered two key stages in the journey from romantic premonitions to today's writing.
Both the Jupiter and Mahler 1 are in the repertory of all major orchestras and have been often performed by the Symphony Orchestra of the Santa Cecilia National Academy and other less significant formations in Rome. It is more useful to stress the specific features of the performance. It is not known whether the Jupiter was the result of a commission. According to Otto Erich Deutsch, Mozart was preparing to hold a series of concerts in the Spiegelgasse, around 1788, and even sent tickets for this series to some of his friends. But it is impossible to determine whether the concert series was held, or was cancelled due to lack of interest. This is not an erudite detail but sets the symphony in its context. Honeck emphasizes the romantic premonitions: from the nostalgic memories of previous work in the first and second movements, to the outburst of the 'finale' where five of the six main themes are intertwined. Even though conceived for a smaller concert hall and orchestra than those of the 3 May 2015 performance, Honeck stressed this five-voice fugato (representing the five major themes) at the end of the fourth movement. But there are fugal sections throughout the movement either by developing one specific theme or by combining two or more themes together, as seen in the interplay between the woodwind instruments.
Mahler 1 had several adjustments from its 1889 Budapest premiere to the definitive 1895 version presented in Berlin. Its second version was a five-movement symphony, and so outside of the canonic four movement symphony formalized by Haydn. In the definitive version, the movements are arranged in a fairly typical four-movement setup. Normally, the Minuet-Trio is the third movement and the slow movement the second, but Mahler has them switched. The keys are D major for the first movement, A major for the second, D minor for the third, and F minor for the last, with a grand D major finale at the end. The use of F minor for the last movement was a dramatic break from conventional usage. Under Honeck's baton, the germs of nineteenth century music are felt more at this break than in other parts of the symphony.