Readers know already the magnificent results of the rentrée concert at the Colón of the Israel Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta. The same programme was repeated last Tuesday at La Plata´s Argentino with huge success. For that theatre it was a very special event, for they hadn´t received such a high-powered combination since 1923, when no less than Richard Strauss and the Vienna Philharmonic were there.
I have partial information about a closed benefit concert presumably on Monday, which included a rare and difficult work: Schumann´s Concert Piece for four horns and orchestra.
Apparently both conductor and orchestra are tireless, for in their second concert at the Colón for the Abono Verde (Green Subscription Series) they tackled no less than Gustav Mahler´s enormous (95 minutes) Third Symphony. Mehta brought along mezzosoprano Lioba Braun (debut) but the session was possible because the Colón contributed the women section of its Resident Choir (Fabián Martínez) and the Children Choir (César Bustamante).
By the way, it is a curious circumstance that no less than four concerts of the Abono Verde happened in August, and two of them in consecutive days: Lang Lang and Jonas Kaufmann. And I have to mention that the best tickets were very costly, equivalent to about 300 dollars; the current economic situation makes such prices almost prohibitive, and even if they were famous artists, it showed in empty seats.
And now to the Mahler Third. It was an audacious act by Gregor Fitelberg to première it in the early Thirties at the Colón, for the Mahler enthusiasm was forged in the Fifties worldwide thanks to the LP (long playing) record. My generation owes it to our great Mahlerian Pedro Calderón to have heard the whole lot, even the Tenth completed by Deryck Cooke. In 1973 Calderón and myself programmed the Buenos Aires Phil´s cycle, ad referendum of Artistic Director Antonio Pini; the conductor proposed to exhume the Third to launch the cycle, I agreed and Pini took the still audacious plunge: it was a complete success and the battle was won.
Calderón repeated it in 2011 with the National Symphony and last year Rettig did it with the same orchestra. Franz-Paul Decker also conducted it in his almost complete cycle with the BA Phil. But no foreign orchestra ever ventured it here until now. And with all the undoubted merits of the previous occasions, we had the most radiant Third that BA has heard live.
The Third was never recorded before the LP era: too long for the 78rpm times. Charles Adler had the privilege of the first recording in 1951, and after him, a cataract of 28 recordings up to 2000 (that´s as far as my RER catalogue goes) from most of the great conductors, including Mehta with the Los Angeles Philharmonic (1978).
So all Mahlerian aficionados know it well by now, but its complexity leads to less frequent programming than others such Ns. 1, 4, 5 and 9. Mahler was a Summer composer; for the rest of the year he was one of the main conductors of his era. The continuous contact with orchestras allowed him to invent new textures, and in fact as an orchestrator his only rival was Richard Strauss.
The period that goes from 1890 to 1910 is the last stretch of Postromanticism, gigantic and harmonically advanced. For Mahler, each symphony was a world, and in the Third his ambition was to reflect the world of Nature in seven movements; eventually he decided to postpone the seventh; he used it as the closing song of his Fourth Symphony.
The first Movement is problematic due to its inordinate length (about 35 minutes) and loose construction, and –as all his symphonies- it includes a funeral march (he had a fixation with death). But that is contrasted with the very affirmative initial melody played by the massed horns; later two elements are essential: a solemn trombone solo and turbulently joyful music. Mehta followed scrupulously every instruction of the score; he doesn´t hurry the morose passages but knows how to grade the climaxes so that they seem the natural issue. In the impeccable playing two things are worth remarking: the clean unanimity of the horns and the admirable trombonist (Nir Erez).
The lovely Second movement, Tempo di menuetto, in fact has plenty of variety in its rhythms and is supposed to portray the flowers. The phrasing and playing was simply exquisite. The Third is one of those inimitable Mahler scherzi of immense resource; its Trio is a long posthorn melody similar to the Carnival of Venice. I don´t think we heard a posthorn but the offstage trumpeter played pianissimo with the utmost delicacy and beauty.
The Fourth incorporates the mezzo voice in a typical Nietzsche text, the slow and metaphysic "Night Song". The Fifth is the world of angels and bells; bim-bam sing the kids whilst the women give us "Three angels sang" (poem from "Des Knaben Wunderhorn") interrupted by the mezzo evoking Peter´s remorse and Christ´s pardon. Lioba Braun sang well though her timbre isn´t the most alluring, and both choirs did nicely.
But it is the sublime last movement that stays in the memory, for it concerns the love of God. The music is slow, noble and moving , gradually coming to an intense final climax. Mehta was masterful and the orchestra responded with total concentration. A memorable end to a great experience.