The David S Operaworld blog

A series of commentary on the world of opera and of serious music hopefully with links to items of broader cultural interest, correlation with the subject at hand. There is plenty of room here for a certain amount of clowning around and general irreverence - not exclusive to me - but of course no trollers or spam please. Blog for coverage of the BBC PROMS 2010 - with thoroughly proofread/upgraded coverage of the 2009 Proms and of much else.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

classicfm: LA Phil/Dudamel Bruno Walter commemorative Mahler 9 at the Barbican - 28.01.11

The Los Angeles Philharmonic toured Europe with fifty years commemorative of making classic Bruno Walter recording of Gustav Mahler’s Ninth Symphony with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra – ensemble comprised then of much L.A. Philharmonic personnel. Sessions were held January 16th, 1961; Gustavo Dudamel showcased the work in Disney Hall on same date this year.

Tempos in particular for the first three movements were similar to those used then by Bruno Walter. The Adagio was the sole exception – especially in mind of Walter having moderated his tempo for the final Adagio from how he conducted it for his Anschluss era Vienna recording. It took not until Bernstein’s Amsterdam recording – among several slowest on record (with Levine’s two) but instead until Roger Norrington for Bruno Walter’s earlier tempos to very nearly be recreated – the swiftest on record – for which Arnold Schoenberg probably called Walter a coward. One reckoned Bernstein might serve partially as Dudamel’s model for this early stab at Mahler Nine. Bernstein was dissatisfied with CBS compelling him to keep length of his Adagio down to 23 minutes - two minutes more than Walter in 1961, nearly five more than 1930’s Walter.

Dudamel has had dicey luck with Mahler thus far. His DGG Fifth with the Simon Bolivar strains for ability to grasp form – lessons learned from which, I suspect he applied here. Dudamel’s inaugural Mahler First with Los Angeles missed nearly all the simplicity behind its inspiration – with tendency to distend phrasing to disproportionate lenghts, plus the fussy quality about it all. It missed what subtle nuance can best serve indicating how the Mahler First Symphony points forward as well. With Verdi Ernani, Lombardi store greater perils for the unwary than do Otello, Don Carlos, Falstaff.

Broad approach to the Ninth’s (supposed) profundity and fuss over less essential detail was less problematic here. Mahler’s Ninth presents some of his most open, exposed writing of any numbered symphony of his since the Fourth. It also hearkens back to emotional subjectivity of the earlier symphonies - after the more objectively conceived Ruckert – with the Ninth fourth within (broken) line of purely orchestral symphonies.

This was for sure a young man’s Mahler - Mahler not very deep into middle age when he composed this. The love of life, love of Nature it expresses is in part still that of a young man partly unwilling to let go. Dudamel kept the temperature slightly cool in approaching this music - somewhat in his still having a tentative feel for it overall, thereby a desire to be prudent, but also, welcome, most engaging of all with its lyricism. .Mistakes certainly became, during some of the Andante comodo, frequently obvious, plus some intermittent through the three remaining movements. Here is still work-in-progress interpretatively, but one also perhaps fully on its way to fruition. Some of the coolness or, if you will, objectivity may be due in part to both a still slightly thin quality of Los Angeles PO strings, but also the dryness of the Barbican acoustic. An airing of this interpretation from Vienna’s Musikverein might tell us more.

Subdued air pervaded the ‘Lebwohl’ opening – understated irregular pulsation underneath and falling quality of main thematic motif – gently filled out by slightly distraught warm glow. Eventually‘ leidenschaftlich’ characterized D minor theme started off with clear direction, then to have Dudamel fuss over minor crests in continuing line thereof, also turning filled out return of varied ‘Lebwohl’ (in D Major) slightly flaccid. Forward, light projection of ‘leidenschaftlich’ underpinned Exposition closing section, then momentarily making all curiously sound slightly weightless, but simultaneously finding something both naïve and refreshing within lift to overall line. Slight clipping of ‘irregular heartbeat’ on octaves put things slightly off, but then surfaced sufficient profile to nobly frame suitably restrained viola section lament.

Impulsivity lightly seized transition into weightlessly trumpet fanfare marked Mit Wut (and nicht zu schnell) that Dudamel firmed up with nodal point from doubled brass therein – then to let all slide away limber. Tricky proportioning out of imminent, truly marked ‘Leidenschaftlich’ became loose. Exchange of bi-tonalities on ‘Lebwohl’ got underlined well, but brief ‘schattenhaft’ to follow slightly picked apart. All to follow into climax to the Andante comodo flowed by - perhaps as though all easily achieved.

Dudamel could have been facing serious issues, had the movement almost ended there. For instead what happens, one began to sense Dudamel’s hearing past this point. All broadened out beautifully for weighted cortege entering from afar. Full orchestra broke off without fuss for beautifully shaped flute, concertmaster, horn solos. Key location throughout here was Dudamel’s just slightly rushed ‘Etwas belebter’ utterly spot-on – next to Lenny’s distended, deconstructive taffy pull - both in anticipating it and making the release. All then without bathos melted into clear, then fading away blues - almost as though to make one forget ‘multitude of sins’ encountered earlier.

Moderately broad in pace, strengthened thus, the ‘laendler scherzo started off with heavy marked rustic gait, knowingly, not self-consciously so, allowing this music’s charm and banality speak for itself – even while leaning hard on repeatedly inflected accompanying brass. First go at second laendler could have afforded heavier downbeats but all landing hollow, right on brass and timpani. Dudamel waited until later reprise of gentle ‘Lebwohl’ F Major laendler to linger over it more than matter-of-fact – indicating growing sense of mastering the art of omission alongside that of commission. Variation on somewhat already the ‘wrong-note reprise of Laendler II Dudamel momentarily had his horns accompany with a most comical slurp, impossible not to have tickled the funny bone.

Drawing out of transfigured colors its harmonic shifts turned poetic extended F Major laendler (reprise), making one indeed reflect upon Columbia Walter’s better virtues. Preparation of ‘dance is over’ solo bassoon reprise of Laendler I was fine, with earthy reply from woodsy solo viola, winds, concertmaster, followed by strong elan and heft for genuinely invested gutsy started mid-phrase Laendler II reprise. Following very intentional gaffe several minutes earlier came, equally witty, big unintentional one, on rushed restart of Laendler I, de-tethering just about everything – so much fun – with recovery very quick. Pulsation through low thudding perfect fifths beneath, dark ruddy color and macabre effect all about - purposefully, ironically including odd bow noise from the concertmaster - sardonically, ideally helped bring this scherzo to a close.

Strong parody, irony emerged more the intent with Rondo-Burleske than banal virtuoso display Other than slight thinness in the strings - Dudamel most attentive to achieving good accenting - the character of this music, taken moderately fast, came off fresh. Solo strings cutting through rustically klezmer parody of Third Symphony got sharply etched – follow through on lower winds’ voicing, marking also thoroughly characterized. High wind’s running preparation of main subject reprise was acrid, with dry reprise of further distorted march also spot-on. Trio opened with decent simplicity, especially as limned from aloft by the violins. Luminous buildup to the climax to developing its main idea became also slightly understated – through warm harp glissandi. Reprise of main section was more straightforward than fierce, with light pointing of strings led ‘operetta’ episode palpable, Accelerando by trumpet was slightly impulsive - utter enjoyment of everything in place of making display again paramount, with merry romp through lower brass toward concluding cadence of perhaps more lift than usual vehemence.

Dudamel framed opening the Adagio with strong lean on its unisons, but avoided sinking line by observing following internal separations well. .Pace was very slow overall, but did not feel it much except for C-sharp minor episodes. Several big crests to the line got understated, perhaps one or two slightly deflated – sign of inexperience but also already strong opinion on where more important emphases should lie. Probably nothing about this entire Ninth more took me aback, conducted by Dudamel - much heart-on-sleeve having been expected instead. Quieter sections of this Adagio were such for which Dudamel opened wide most frequently well calibrated space for them to project their deeply meditative quality, vernal shimmering lights in higher reaches – to recall the ever blossoming, renewing quality of much within ‘Das Lied.’ Others, certainly Bernstein’s first try at the Adagio make afterthought of these passages for great ‘wailing wall’ of obvious big refrains, but not Karel Ancerl – now hardly Dudamel either.

Reach toward large climax, through subtio piu mosso (marked Nun etwas drangend) was flexibly impulsive - Dudamel then gently applying the brakes for four descending big notes into starting the recapitulation. At similar crest in tutti minutes before, he eschewed over-emphasizing this for how more charged he could make large reach without forcing it, toward it all cutting off. Anguished high violin’s A natural - intense from Otto Klemperer - got mildly understated toward good, mature impetus lyrical shaping of entire line overall. Dudamel failed to quite open ‘Adagissimo’ final page slower than body of this Adagio – final show of naivete then some excessive lingering over this music’s ultimate fading away.

This interpretation of Mahler’s Ninth still has some ways to go - not to fall back on more conventional solutions, but instead perhaps to even take several extra risks. Most moving here seemed both Dudamel’s very close scrutiny of the score and amount of heart and imagination, if not surplus of intellect he has invested into thinking it out. With Los Angeles Philharmonic instead of with orchestra back home with which Dudamel can often rehearse over twenty hours each program he conducts, even with what mistakes, naivete present, this is the best I have yet heard Dudamel on anything – versus Dudamel the primed, pumped fawned over pawn of nefarious marketing forces active, omnipresent today. How much this aspect of the business he can put aside may well determine how he can prevent himself from ever again cheapening other repertoire - and then perhaps make great strides.

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