Gustav Mahler’s years in Leipzig – two seasons between 1886 and 1888 – were of decisive importance for the mid-twenties. Towards the end of the two years he wrote his 1st symphony here and worked his way up to the nested construct of the following three “Wunderhorn” symphonies; Setting the course from which everything emerged that then made up his formative influence on the following generations of musicians. Nevertheless, unlike Bach, Mendelssohn or Schumann, many of whose works seem inextricably linked to Leipzig, Mahler has no home advantage there. There were personalities such as Václav Neumann and Herbert Kegel, who competently and successfully planted him in the minds of the listeners as early as the GDR era, but Franz Konwitschny, Kurt Masur and Herbert Blomstedt together spent almost half a century at the decisive point as conductor at the Gewandhaus all of them did not ignore the great charismatic, but neither did they systematically cultivate it.
That changed when, in 2005, Riccardo Chailly, a proven Mahler expert, took office. The first Mahler Festival in Leipzig in 2011 was also thanks to his initiative. If now in its current new edition Andris Nelsons – after a relaxed prelude with the “Drei Pintos” (FAZ from May 17th) and evenings of songs and chamber music – was the first to really go all out with the “Resurrection Symphony” and then between May 26th and and 29 May with three performances of the “Symphony of a Thousand” will also set the correspondingly powerful conclusion, the constellation is the same as with many other repertoire developments of the current boss, who is now in his fifth year: setting his own accents without doing everything overturning traditions.
In this case, if you look at the Ascension performance of the 2nd symphony as a balancing synthesis of Nelson’s previous Mahler activities (so far mainly with the Vienna Philharmonic), it was a complete success. And in a direct comparison with the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, who guested one evening later under Tugan Sokhiev, one could also approach the question of how the Latvian conductor’s quality of playing out the special characteristics of an ensemble and its daily constitution optimally, here in the coming together of his orchestra, which is as saturated with tradition as it is idiosyncratic could work with the expressive ecstasy extremists of the “Fin de Siècle”.
The Munich band, a fabulous, highly responsive ensemble, often paled in their violent ride through the 4th symphony and the “Lied von der Erde” despite all the delicate detailing, but had their “listening points” most likely in passages of precious, exquisite, art nouveau refined poetry (such as in the slow movement of the G major symphony), but almost never reached that operating temperature at which even a critical listener can only hoist the white flag in helpless amazement, so to speak. It seems that Sokhiev didn’t want that either, but worked through something like a ready-made circuit diagram with his musicians: well oiled, but not even touching the abyss.
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