Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Concert Minis #5 (Mahler Minis from Leipzig)

This is a series of reviews of the relays from the Mahler Festival in Leipzig. Every concert of which you all can listen to here.

Mahler Symphony no. 2 - Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra dir. Riccardo Chailly

Go here for Mahler-Mini 2

For sheer craftsmanship, there is no conductor in the world more masterly than Riccardo Chailly. A Chailly performance emerges with perfectly calibrated dynamics, rhythms, and balances, and it does so only rarely at the expense of the music's energy and emotional content. The only thing missing in Chailly's makeup is a sense of exploration. A knowledgeable listener can guess exactly what a Chailly interpretation will sound like without having to hear it.

Back in 2002, I heard Chailly perform the Resurrection Symphony live in Washington DC with his old orchestra, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam. A few details aside, this was virtually the same virtuoso account I remember nine years ago, but with one major difference: While the Royal Concertgebouw has been the world's pre-eminent Mahler orchestra for the century since his death, their Mahler performances can also smack of a routine they know all too well. For over 200 years, the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra has been one of the great German orchestras. But excerpting Bruno Walter's brief pre-Nazi tenure, none of their directors until Riccardo Chailly were great Mahler champions. This performance had all the excitement of a new discovery. The Gewandhaus Orchestra tore into Mahler's apocalyptic passages with relish, and played the quiet passages with a truly rare level of expression. Ever the secure guide, Chailly elicited more nuance from the orchestra than most conductors can dream. For once, Mahler's sprawling (and occasionally dull) score emerged as something constructed with the rigor of Beethoven's symphonies. The combined forces of the Berlin Radio Chorus, the Leipzig Gewandhaus Choir and the Central German Radio Choir gave better choral work than perhaps I've ever heard in this piece. Soprano and Mezzo Christiane Oelze and Sarah Connelly, gave distinguished contributions, particularly Oelze, that couldn't help being obscured by the excellence of everything else.

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