It felt like refueling while you still can. How long will entire orchestras continue to travel the world as ambassadors of their own traditions, their own sound cultures? How long can we sit so close together with 1,250 people and walk around in the corridors without a mouth cap?
In the Concertgebouw, which had to cancel its Mahler party in May 2020 and 2021, a Mahler catch-up took place this week. Interestingly enough, two exclusive Mahler concerts on consecutive evenings testified to completely different ideals, traditions and temperaments.
Read also this Mahler strip, about the love between Gustav and Alma
The excellent Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra (with nice driving Rick Stotijn as leader of the double basses) came along with chief conductor Daniel Harding. For Harding, also referred to as a potential chief of the Concertgebouw Orchestra, this orchestra is his ‘musical family’. He has been in charge since 2007, signed on until 2025 and is noticeably close to his musicians. in Mahlers Fourth Symphony they ate out of his hand: every gesture resonated immediately, there was plenty of room for spontaneity and not a chink of space between what seemed to be Harding’s ears, and what then reached your ear. You could also tell from the contrasts between martial eruptions and elegant panache that Harding knows the acoustics of the Concertgebouw well.
Whether there was nevertheless something to be desired is a matter of perspective. Harding made of the Fourth Symphony a gentlemen’s-Mahler: caverns of the soul and fragments of street music were neatly covered by orchestral silk and velvet. Also in the eight songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn orchestral panache and elegance dominated, although Christian Gerhaher once again proved himself the Mahler baritone with his vocal natural (as spoken low, light high) and almost mystical empathy.
Mahler on life and death
Those who prefer a rawer look at Mahler, a life and death Mahler, so to speak, were served on Thursday by the Budapest Festival Orchestra conducted by Iván Fischer. Mahler’s hour and a half, ominous, personal and abysmal Ninth explicitly invites you to explore all facets of human need. But the fact that your own emotional vulnerability was immediately sharpened so much was also due to the completely different approach.
In sound, the opening movement immediately possessed a depth that Harding stayed away from: an uncompromisingness beyond beauty, a digging into the sound until you end up where you might actually rather not be.
Fischer (70) founded the Budapest Festival Orchestra in 1983 as the ‘large Austro-Hungarian orchestra’; symphonic embodiment of the versatility of Central Europe, from perfumed Viennese waltz to gypsy czardas.
Also read: the wise lessons of maestro Iván Fischer
You heard everything that the orchestra built up in those forty years and already carried within it tradition Ninth. Love music welled up from a soft bass motif, violins sighed in slow motion as harbingers of even greater disaster, roaring brass ripped hopes to shreds. It was raw and soul-carving – a scream to start another concert-calmed winter.
#evening #lockdown #Mahler #scream