sábado, agosto 22, 2015

An admirable Mahler Third and other worthwhile events

            Of all the repertoire symphonies Mahler´s Third is the longest though not the most complex (the same composer´s Eighth, "Of the Thousand", holds that laurel). One hour and forty minutes, six movements, written between 1895-6 for a huge orchestra.       My favorite Mahler symphonies are (in order) the Ninth, the Second, the Fifth, the First, the Sixth and the Forth. The two that I like less (not counting the incomplete Tenth) are the Third and the Seventh, but in fact I deeply love all of them and they are certainly the most important corpus of symphonies of Late Romanticism  after Brahms and ahead of Tchaikovsky, Dvorák, Sibelius and Bruckner, the other unassailable contestants of the period.

            In fact, the recognition of Mahler came quite late and is an after-WWII phenomenon, probably because of their disproportionate length (that also affected Bruckner). And it is closely tied to LP recording. Of course we now have several integrals in CD.

            Still, the Third is rarely played for it is a major challenge. Apart from the normal full symphony orchestra, it adds four horns to the habitual four, there are five clarinets, the percussion is ample, there´s an unusual soloist in the fourth movement (the Posthorn). And you also need a contralto or mezzosoprano plus a female choir and a children choir.  There are long and exposed trumpet and trombone solos, and the eight horns start the whole thing fortissimo with a long melody similar to the famous one of the final movement of Brahms´ First. It needs tremendous concentration and stamina from players and conductor, it is played without interval.

            It would have been even longer, but fortunately the seventh movement was "passed" to the Fourth Symphony, a soprano singing an angelic song. As happens in all his symphonies, Mahler creates a world of his own, made up of inexhaustible orchestral imagination, folk elements, metaphysical sublimations, advanced harmonic language and constant contrasts. And of course, a funeral march, his obsession with death (there´s one in every symphony he wrote).

            David Johnson summarizes the Third thus: "beginning with inanimate Nature, the movements later depict vegetal and animal life, man, angels, and finally the transfiguration of life through the love of God". The fourth movement has a typically repetitive Nietzsche poem, and the fifth combines a text from "Des Knaben Wunderhorn" sung by mezzo or contralto plus female choir, accompanied by the "Bim-bam" of Heaven´s bells in children´s voices. The final minutes provide a catharsis almost as strong as the end of the Second Symphony, "Resurrection".

            Francisco Rettig is probably the best South American conductor, and I´m glad that he undertook the enormous task of conducting the Third at the Blue Whale with the National Symphony (Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional), mezzosoprano Alejandra Malvino, the female section of the Coro Polifónico Nacional (Darío Marchese) and the Coro Nacional de Niños (María Isabel Sanz). This score has, to my knowledge, been done only thrice in BA: in the Thirties by Gregor Fitelberg at the Colón, in 1973 by Pedro Calderón and later by Franz-Paul Decker, both with the Buenos Aires Philharmonic.

            There were mistakes, especially from the first trumpet, but by and large the playing coped with the difficulties, and Rettig was a splendid conductor, unfailing in his tempi, attentive to every detail and always clearly in command. Although the player of the Posthorn part was a bit hesitant initially, he later was firmer in Mahler´s curious inclusion of the "Carnival of Venice" tune. And by the way, although it seemed a rather special trumpet sound, I can´t vouchsafe that he played a real Posthorn (a stagecoach trumpet). It certainly is a rarity nowadays.

            An interesting footnote to the Barenboim Festival was the recital by Elena Bashkirova for the Mozarteum Midday Concerts at the Gran Rex. She is Mrs. Barenboim but also a talented pianist on her own, heard in other recent visits with the Jerusalem Festival Chamber Ensemble (which she founded) and as soloist with orchestra.  

            She started with an ideal combination that to my mind is the very best we have of Mozart as a pianistic composer: the Fantasy K.475 and the Sonata Nº 14, K.457, both in D minor and tremendously prophetic of what will come with Beethoven (in fact, some chords in the Fantasy seem out of the "Appassionata"!) . This is a Mozart of harmonic audacity and strong contrasts, and Bashkirova accordingly played it, with fine technique (crisp articulation and dramatic accents).

            The Isaac Albéniz of "Cantos de España" Op. 232, may be less advanced than that of "Iberia" (influenced by Impressionism), but it is fine music. Her marksmanship in the very difficult Prelude left something to be desired, but on the other pieces she was quite Spanish and in full command (lovely phrasing in "Córdoba" and brilliant in "Seguidillas"). She gave as encore the delightful "December" from Tchaikovsky´s "The Seasons" (more accurately it should be called "The Months").

            Vedrana Kovac is a young Croat pianist who gave a good debut recital at the Museo Fernández Blanco.  After an added Croat composer whose name I couldn´t catch, she played very neatly Bach´s Toccata in C minor, the dense and fascinating Franck "Prelude, Chorale and Fugue", and three Liszt pieces that corroborated her sureness and command: "Isolda´s love death" (transcription from Wagner), the ultra-famous Hungarian Rhapsody Nº 2, and the concert paraphrase on Verdi´s "Rigoletto" Quartet.


For Buenos Aires Herald