Kirill Petrenko programmed several works by Gustav Mahler for his first season as chief conductor of the Berliner Philharmoniker. Symphonies by the composer were to be performed under his direction not only at the Easter Festival in Baden-Baden, but also at a Mahler festival in Amsterdam. Both event series had to be cancelled due to the corona crisis. Fortunately, the performance of the Sixth Symphony conducted by Petrenko was recorded for the Digital Concert Hall in January 2020. The finale of this work closes the second episode of our Easter@Philharmonie Festival which is dedicated to Gustav Mahler.
The Sixth Symphony is also a unique piece for Kirill Petrenko, especially since it is Mahler’s only contribution to the genre that ends in a minor key. Although its unofficial nickname – “The Tragic”– does not originate from the composer himself, the work is actually characterised by a particular “intransigence” and bleak visions of the future, as Kirill Petrenko explains in a conversation recorded especially for the digital festival. But Mahler’s optimistic and humorous side is also expressed in this episode: in recordings of the finale of the Fifth Symphony conducted by Gustavo Dudamel and in the Scherzo of the Second, which Andris Nelsons conducted in a concert by the Philharmoniker in December 2018. We also hear a movement from the Third Symphony with the mezzo-soprano Elīna Garanča and the conductor Lorenzo Viotti, which was also scheduled for the festival in Baden-Baden.
Besides the symphony, Gustav Mahler devoted himself almost exclusively to lieder. Anna Prohaska and Christian Gerhaher – both long-standing trusted partners of the Philharmoniker – can also be heard in this recording. Prohaska sings the Wunderhorn lied “Das irdische Leben” in an empty Philharmonie, while Gerhaher presents the moving cycle Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen in an archive recording. The second episode of our festival is rounded off by rehearsal and concert recordings with Claudio Abbado and Sir Simon Rattle – Kirill Petrenko’s two predecessors who also felt a close connection to the music of Gustav Mahler.