Saturday, 29 January 2011

Gustavo Dudamel and Mahler's 9th

Two Reviews of the LA Philharmonic - Cologne 26th and London 28th January

Cologne Philharmonie
Hi John,
How was the concert last night? I am sure you enjoyed it, unless something went terribly wrong.
Only the best conductors can really demonstrate how much music is in Mahler's works. As I can never remember which piece is which, I go from movement to movement with few expectations, except of course in this case you had reminded me which last movement it was.

For me the peak of the experience on Wednesday evening in Cologne was the second movement. Gustavo Dudamel got the LA Philharmonic to play the first movement magnificently and then the music came alive in the second. This has to be my favourite Mahler movement and no one could have played it better. It was a dream. There was just a short time not far into the third movement where I felt Gustavo lost it a bit. The orchestra were not quite together.

I don't think the beginning of the fourth movement was the best I have heard, because I found myself doubting that it was going to build-up, or should I say down, to the gripping end. But then I had second thoughts and got lost in it.

Unfortunately the end was far from perfect but beyond Gustavo's control. One of the Bass players staggered off stage. To make matters worse she was wearing heeled shoes and made quite a din. She caught my attention when she was half way off, even though she was in my direct line of sight, so I must have been completely enthralled by then, but of course the mood was lost.

Needless to say neither Gustavo Dudamel nor the orchestra flinched.  I hope they had a better night last night in London, they deserved a second chance to make it a performance to remember for all the right reasons - I would have happily gone again!

Some fools in the audience did not allow Gustavo Dudamel to hold the silence at the end but the audience as a whole were very very appreciative - not quite a standing ovation. I for one was not on my feet - but I was on the front row of the balcony!
The evening ended with the orchestra playing Happy Birthday - it was his 30th. 
I look forward to receiving your more considered comments ...... and to hearing Gustavo Dudamel again.

The Barbican Centre
Hi Liz,
Our response to Friday night at the Barbican was mixed. I enjoyed the performance, which went without mishap! Christiane was not so keen.

To start with the LA Philharmonic is all about speed and accuracy. It doesn't have the rich sonorities of the great European orchestras like the Berlin Philharmonic, Vienna Philharmonic, Leipzig Gewandhaus or the Concertgebouw. So for some passages that was a minus. On the plus side they responded wholeheartedly to everything he asked them to do, so the interpretation was very definitely Gustavo's.

Gustavo is still a young man and I think his interpretations will mature. Last night he was pushing the symphony to exaggerate the emotions. In some cases it was the emotional pain, especially in the first movement, in others he seemed to be looking for irony, like in the second and third movements. The Ländler of the second movement is sometimes played as a polite stately dance; here it was an extremely bucolic almost drunken village event. He took the third movement very quickly and the last few bars, where the tempo almost doubles, were at breakneck speed but the orchestra was capable of rising to the challenge.

Later the image which came to my mind to describe those first three movements was that of being taken for a ride in a fast and noisy American sports car, along a twisty mountain road. It was very exciting and the scenery was beautiful but there was not much time to look around and enjoy it! I think he needs to redress the balance somewhat between excitement; and more peaceful contemplation of the slower, quieter, more beautiful sections.

In my opinion the last movement is really the emotional centre of the piece. Having passed though the turmoil of life in the first three movements it is, for me, all about a peaceful and resigned acceptance of death. The conductor has to prepare for this from the beginning of the movement and, although there are intensely emotional passages, he must always remember the atmosphere that he has to create and sustain right through to the last few bars. Here Gustavo didn't quite get it right. In the first part of the last movement he was still pushing the orchestra to overstate the emotional mood, as he had done in the previous movements. He reined them back near the end, but by then he had not created the necessary frame of mind. He held the audience in silence for thirty seconds (I counted) before he allowed them to applaud, but Christiane said that the audience responded out of politeness and not from a true feeling of emotional connection. I think she was right! There were a few people standing at the end but I have seen much more enthusiastic responses in London.

In summary, I enjoyed the performance, and I will go to see him again one day, but perhaps performing Shostakovitch next time. It suits him better!

So my reference performance for Mahler's ninth remains Claudio Abbado at the Proms in 1994. I have missed his appearances with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra that David Nice talks about here and here! Keep an eye out for any of Claudio's upcoming Mahler performances! He is still, with Leonard Bernstein, the best Mahlerian I have ever seen!



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