I know that I’ve bored some of you with my Mahler obsession in the past but this time’s slightly different.
I discovered Mahler in about 1964/65 as a result of buying a Bernstein Columbia box set which included the symphonies 2, 6 and 9; I absolutely fell in love with the 2nd symphony. To the degree that I recall saying [to myself of course] that I’d travel anywhere in the US to hear it performed live. I never actually did travel but in the intervening years I’ve heard it live twice, in LA and in SF.
About at that same period a NY businessman, a very wealthy businessman, Gilbert Kaplan, also discovered Mahler’s second symphony. He became so obsessed with this single piece of music that he travelled the world to hear it performed by all of the top conductors. In 1982, after a series of rehearsals, Mr. Kaplan hired the American Symphony Orchestra to present Mahler’s Second Symphony under his baton at the Lincoln Center. The music critic of the Village Voice gave the performance a rave review, he declared the interpretation “one of the five or six most profoundly realized Mahler Seconds” in the previous 25 years. Even those attendees not schooled in music seemed to recognize that they had witnessed something remarkable. That’s about when I became aware of Gilbert Kaplan.
He became an obsessive scholar of this single piece of music, in 1984, he purchased the original manuscript of the Second Symphony. After rigorously comparing the original with the commonly used version, he claimed to have found 300 errors in the latter and co-edited a new score that won the approval of the International Gustav Mahler Society in Vienna.
He then went on to conduct and record his ‘new’ version with the London Symphony Orchestra, it was described in news accounts as the best-selling Mahler recording ever. It was reviewed “To think there is nothing else to know of Mahler’s Second beyond what Mr. Kaplan has to show would be a mistake. But it seems likely that no one is better equipped to reveal the impact of precisely what Mahler put on the page.”
He conducted from memory with a baton originally owned by Gustav Mahler and accepted no payment for his performance because he did not consider himself a professional musician. Among other confessed weaknesses, he could barely read music apart from that of the Second Symphony. He was, he said, an amateur “in the best sense of the word.”
I of course bought the London Symphony version as soon as it was released and soon thereafter he recorded a second version with the Vienna Philharmonic and of course I added that one to my collection also.
I started off mentioning my Mahler obsession, not sure if this counts as obsession but I do have 3 versions of the second on vinyl and 4 more on CD, and I long ago decided the Kaplan’s versions were the best in my collection. Since 1955 I’ve listened to various versions of Mahler’s second literally dozens/hundreds of times. But there’s another conductor who I value highly, another Mahler specialist, it’s Claudio Abbado with his Lucerne Festival Orchestra, a group dedicated to the performance of Mahler’s music. Some time ago I decided that a pleasant way to depart would be watching Blu ray performances from my recliner of all of Mahler’s symphonies on a 55″ flatscreen by the Claudio Abbado orchestra, as they say ‘Way to go!’.
Here’s his version of the second, The Resurrection Symphony. I’ve watched it many times. Treat yourselves to 90 minutes of fabulous music.
Gilbert Kaplan died in 2016. Of all those who left us last year I’ll miss him the most.