Musicians from the New York Philharmonic continue the Philharmonic’s season-long celebration of Mahler with a performance of his only surviving piece of chamber music: an early Piano Quartet, of which only one movement was completed.
Even in this fragment, we receive tantalizing inklings of the later Mahler. Rich string writing and a wraithlike, wistful melody receive minimal development in this movement; rather, we return again and again, obsessively, to the same harmonic and melodic material. This fascinating program is completed by works of composers that Mahler greatly admired. In the case of Johannes Brahms, represented here by his sumptuous string sextet in B-flat Major, the admiration was mutual: the older Brahms, years after meeting the 30-year-old Mahler in Budapest, smoothed the way for Mahler to be appointed director of the Vienna State Opera. While Mahler and Schumann never met, they shared similar interests (including the poetry of Friedrich Rückert), and Mahler often conducted Schumann’s symphonies, drawing inspiration from those works. Schumann’s brilliantly songful piano quartet, here paired with Mahler’s, itself takes cues from older masters like Beethoven and was so admired by Johannes Brahms that he transcribed it for piano four hands.