In search of the “authentic” Mahler style…

This is cross-posted from Synaphai.


A century ago, Ludwig van Beethoven was by near-universal consensus the most admired composer among lovers and performers of classical music; at the time, little if any consideration was given to the issue of “authentic” performance practice. Keyboard instruments of Beethoven’s era had for the most part been discarded in favor of what we know as the modern piano; orchestral wind, brass, and percussion instruments were similarly superseded by more evolved models. Conductors of the era, including Gustav Mahler, were prone to adjust orchestration to compensate for forces larger and quite different in sound than those of Beethoven’s era.

Today, there is a strong argument that Mahler occupies the pedestal that had been held by Beethoven during an era when his great champions included names such as von Bulow, Paderewski, Rachmaninoff, Weingartner, Toscanini — and, of course, Mahler himself.

The fact that a small but artistically signifiant number of recordings of Mahler’s music were made during the acoustic and “shellac” (electrical pre-LP) recording eras — including several by artists who worked closely with Mahler — gives modern listeners the opportunity to hear these works as they had been sung and played during an era when, contrary to earlier assumptions, their reputation and popularity were on the rise until political and social upheaval – and war – swept Europe in the 1930s.

These early studio recordings, naturally, have given rise to speculation about whether or not it is possible to determine an “authentic” performance style for Mahler.

Several years ago, when I produced “The Music of Gustav Mahler; Issued 78s, 1903-1940” — the first comprehensive anthology of every commercially-issued Mahler 78s released between 1903 and 1940 and listed in Peter Fülöp’s exhausive Mahler discography — my intent was not only to present these recordings in the context of the era in which they were issued in the best sound possible, but to also offer informed insight into historical, technical, and artistic facts surrounding these recordings in the form of thorough liner notes authored by Sybille Werner.

The set and the accompanying notes were not conceived to answer questions about “authentic” Mahler performance practice — nor for that matter do I believe an answer to the question exists, though one can discern that there were significant artistic and interpretive characteristics unique to the era, particularly in instrumental playing.   Additionally, one cannot ignore overall differences among authoritative studio recordings made by Mahler’s conducting colleagues and protégés: Bruno Walter, Willem Mengelberg, and Oskar Fried. Likewise, the voices of Leopold Demuth, Lula Mysz-Gmeiner, and Sara Charles-Cahier, three singers who had sung under Mahler’s direction, shed light not only to the composer’s music but the vocal style and tradition of Mahler’s world, along with the many other singers represented in the set.

I have in recent months received several inquiries about the future availability of the set. I have completed most of the technical work on a follow-up set that will include the remaining 78s and several important recordings issued during the early LP era, but good quality copies of two discs have proven elusive. I expect this situation to be resolved in the next few months, and am speaking with my strategic partners about a short run of the original set once the second volume is completed. 

The original run of “The Music of Gustav Mahler; Issued 78s, 1903-1940” — 1000 copies — was warmly received by the press, and my distributors sold out of the set within less than two months of its release date. Used copies that turn up on eBay and Amazon command insanely high prices.

Releasing the set as a digital item through online retailers has proven problematic, despite the dogged efforts of my worldwide distributor, Alto Distribution, and my outstanding digital aggregator, Entertainment One.

Some of the major players in digital music for direct sale and download, most notably iTunes, have introduced logistical obstacles that make it next to impossible to make sets with a large number of tracks available for download or streaming.

As a result, I have decided to make the entire set available through a small-scale strategic partner for purchase in lossless download formats: Apple Lossless for iTunes users and flac for most other listeners. The original English-language liner notes and all German texts with English translations are included in .pdf format.

You can download the entire package here.

I will leave any conclusions concerning Mahler’s “authentic” style to you, the listener.

Latin Grammy Nomination for desde Estudios a Tangos

Urlicht AudioVisual is pleased to announce that desde Estudios a Tangos, featuring violinist Elmira Darvarova and legendary tango pianist and arranger Octavio Brunetti, has been nominated for a Latin Grammy®!

The CD was released in September of last year, just days after Octavio’s unexpected death following a brief illness. We are humbled that this disc commemorates a greatly missed champion of tango music at the peak of his abilities in a partnership with one of his very favorite musical collaborators.

desde Estusios a Tangos

Ástor Piazzolla
6 Études tanguistiquesIntroducción al ÁngelNight Club 1960Milonga del ÁngelVardaritoResurreccion del ÁngelRevolucionario

Elmira Darvarova, violin
Octavio Brunetti, piano

Recorded January 19, 2013 at Gill Chapel, Rider University, Lawrenceville, NJ
Engineered and edited by John C. Baker
Produced by Gene Gaudette

Urlicht AudioVisual UAV-CD-5991

Available from Amazon

Our Mahler Box Makes the 2014 NY Times Gift Guide

UAV-5980.cover.600We are in the company of Anna Netrebko, Richard Strauss (as conductor), John Eliot Gardiner, Maria Callas, and Leonard Shure – and quite humbled by the honor:

This impressive collection of early — very early — Mahler recordings includes symphonies led by the likes of Bruno Walter, Dimitri Mitropoulos, Eugene Ormandy and Willem Mengelberg, often in interpretations more willful and changeable than we are used to today. Memorable weirdness comes in the form of dance-band arrangements of tunes from “Das Lied von der Erde” and “Des Knaben Wunderhorn.”
– Zachary Woolfe

The Music of Gustav Mahler  |  Issued 78s, 1903-1940
CD Edition: Urlicht AudioVisual UAV-5980

No longer available, limited to an edition of 1000 copies

Octavio Brunetti 1975–2014

10413433_10204725545843939_2716420471224153886_nUrlicht AudioVisual is deeply saddened to learn of the death of pianist Octavio Brunetti, considered the leading tango pianist and arranger of his generation, at age 39, following a long hospitalization for an unexpected infectious illness.

The label was honored to record Octavio, a Grammy®-winning artist, last year with violinist Elmira Darvarova in a program of his original arrangements of music by Ástor Piazzolla, desde ESTUDIOS a TANGOS. The recording will be released on September 2.

Patricia Leonard’s “Strangely Close, Yet Distant” Nominated for American Prize in Composition

Songs for Mahler in the Absence of WordsComposer Patricia Leonard informs us that Strangely Close, Yet Distant, her trio for viola, cello, and piano included in the New York Piano Quartet’s Songs for Mahler in the Absence of Words, has been nominated for the American Prize for Composition.

Urlicht AudioVisual congratulates Patricia along with the members of the New York Piano Quartet along with recording engineer John Baker and his team!


Download the hi-def .flac edition here.
Download the CD-quality .flac edition here.
Download the hi-quality mp3 edition here.
Buy the CD edition here.

Legendary Double Bassist Gary Karr on Urlicht

Gary Karr is the world’s leading double bass soloist — a phenomenal musician and pedagogue whose playing and teaching have revolutionized the way in which the lowest instrument in the string family is heard.

Urlicht AudioVisual is pleased to announce its first release with Gary Karr, joined by his longtime artistic collaborator Harmon Lewis and the first woman concertmaster of the MET Orchestra, Elmira Darvarova. The disc showcases the music of two European Baroque masters who reached their artistic zenith outside of their native countries in London: Georg Frideric Handel, a giant among Baroque composers, and François-Hippolyte Barthélemon, a French violinist of the generation after Handel who counted Haydn among his friends and colleagues.

Karr. Darvarova, and Lewis eschew the trends of scholarly, so-called “authentic” performance practice, bringing warm cantabile playing and robust energy to Handel’s Trio Sonatas Op. 2 Nos. 8 and 9, and puckish playfulness alternating with beautiful contrapuntal melodies in Barthélemon’s unjustly neglected Duettos.

Handel • Barthélemon | European Baroque Masters in London is scheduled for release in July 2013 and will be distributed in the US and Canada through E One Entertainment.

Urlicht on the Road: Report from Paris

Our owner is still shaking off jet lag following an enormously rewarding two days of marathon recording sessions at Temple Saint-Pierre in Paris La Villette. The indefatigable pianist Pascal Rogé and friends — violinist Elmira Darvarova (the first ever woman-concertmaster in the history of the Metropolitan Opera), Orchestre de Paris principal clarinetist Pascal Moraguès, New York Philharmonic horn virtuoso Howard Wall, and Pascal’s wife, pianist Ami Rogé — recorded some of Francis Poulenc‘s most rewarding chamber and piano four-hands music. Audiophile engineer George Vassilev, who was an enormously perceptive set of “second ears”, and François, the master piano technician from Régie Pianos who was present for the entire session keeping a stunning Steinway in perfect condition, played a huge role in making these demanding sessions a complete success. Urlicht is grateful beyond words to every one of these terrific musicians, and can’t wait to get this recording on the market.

“Are you crazy?”

That was the reaction of not one but two friends in the music business when I told them late last year that I planned to start a record label. “Sales are tanking… the business model is in meltdown… and did I mention the economy is a train wreck?”

Yes, yes, and yes — which is why I feel now is the right time to launch Urlicht AudioVisual.

Sales of physical product are not doing comparatively well — if you’re a major label like Sony or EMI. Indie classical labels have advantages — they are more connected with their audience, they are not encumbered by the dictates of the major labels’ clueless distribution divisions, and they understand the power of direct downloads. Indies now rule the roost when it comes to classical music. I’ve opted to partner with two companies — E One Entertainment for traditional physical distribution and meyefi.com for downloads — that are navigating the changing business model with insight and aplomb. And, being ever the optimist, the only direction in which I see the economy going is up.

Urlicht AudioVisual will focus on daring artists with a strong interpretive point of view.

Pianist Elisha Abas, whose playing is strongly influenced by Ignaz Friedman, Josef Hofmann, and other great romantic virtuoso pianists, brings a bold, new direction to a cornerstone of the romantic repertoire, Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1, in a performance that has the feel of a large-scale “symphonic poem.”

I’ve been mightily impressed by the New York Chamber Music Festival and its core ensemble, the New York Piano Quartet — pianist Linda Hall, violinist Elmira Darvarova (the driving force behind the festival), violist Ronald Carbone, and cellist Samuel Magill, all of whom have been members of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. Toward the end of last year’s festival, Elmira and I talked about recording one of their programs. Instead, we did two: “Songs for Mahler in the Absence of Words”, centered around Mahler’s very early movement for piano quartet and sketches for a scherzo (this disc features seven world premiere recordings by a variety of impressive composers), and a second disc coupling two formidably challenging works by Joseph Marx and Erich Wolfgang Korngold.

And I’m working on forthcoming releases featuring violinist Elmira Darvarova, legendary double bass player Gary Karr, and two of the most exciting exponents of new music I’ve heard in years, violinist Miranda Cuckson and pianist Blair McMillan.

On September 12, the New York Chamber Music Festival will hold an informal label launch party following the NYPQ’s performance of the Marx and Korngold works, plus Gernot Wolfgang’s From Vienna with Love (featured on the “Songs for Mahler” CD) at Symphony Space. I hope you can join us!

— Gene Gaudette