In March 1896, Mahler travelled to Berlin to perform his First Symphony with the Berliner Philharmoniker. Although audience interest was meagre, the concert marked an important stage in the history of the work. At its first performance in 1889, it still went under the name of “Symphonic Poem in 2 Parts”, and the Berlin performance was the first time Mahler used the term “symphony”.
This change of genre led to Mahler removing the programmatic titles of the movements of the work in addition to its original title, Titan. He also discarded the complete second movement with the title Blumine, which was only rediscovered in the 1960s. Following one of its first performances at the Aldeburgh Festival, the critic Alan Blyth wrote, “This is an exquisite Andante, and is shot through with the same sense of resignation and regret so dear to the composer. Nowhere else did he capture this feeling more succinctly.” One of the few conductors who has recorded the movement is Zubin Mehta, who now introduces Blumine to Berliner Philharmoniker audiences.
The main work of the first half of the concert is the all too seldom performed Cello Concerto by Robert Schumann. Unlike other solo concertos of the early 19th century, this work does not try to woo the listener with brilliance or easy to remember melodies. Instead, the solo part strikes a sensitive narrative tone as if the composer wants to entrust the listener with his most internal thoughts and feelings. Making his debut with the orchestra as the soloist in this concert is the German-Canadian Johannes Moser, described by the magazine Gramophone as “one of the finest among the astonishing gallery of young virtuoso cellists”.
Incidentally, the programme of this evening’s concert has a special historical background. It was with exactly these works that Zubin Mehta made his debut with the Philharmoniker 50 years previously, on 18 September 1961. The concert was met with standing ovations at the time, and a Berlin critic wrote quite prophetically that Mehta was “the man to look out for” in the conducting world. In fact, the Philharmoniker and Zubin Mehta have since met almost every year to perform together. Reason enough to remember the beginning of this wonderful partnership.