Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Concert Minis #6 (Mahler Mini #2 from Leipzig)

Mahler: Symphony #3 - Staatskapelle Dresden dir. Esa Pekka Salonen

Go here for Mahler-Mini #1

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.

My interest in this concert was more for its novelty than its content. Imagine Cole Porter and Aphex Twin on the same stage and you'll have some idea of how weird this pairing looks on paper. The thought of the world's most traditional orchestra - the 450 year old Staatskapelle Dresden - teeming up with ultra-modernist conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen is more than a little strange. Both are truly great at what they do, yet the qualities they expound so excellently are at opposite ends of the musical spectrum. The result is, as expected, truly bizarre. Individual moments of beauty were surely there, many enough as to make it doubly disappointing every time the performers brought the beauty to a halt by some singular peculiarity that stuck out like an ear-worm.

Neither the orchestra nor the conductor has, in my experience, shown great understanding of Mahler. The performance felt as though there was an open war between two conceptions, neither of which works. For all his ear for color and form, Salonen does not exhibit much understanding of melody. Rather than let the music breath with flexibility, he would simply change tempo if he felt it required. The Staatskapelle responded to Salonen's ultra-physical podium style with an un-Mahlerian reserve one could readily see Salonen trying to shake off. Yet gone was the famed 'Old Gold' Dresden sound which they produce for so many other conductors, and in its place was a surprising technical sloppiness. This pairing was an easily foreseeable mistake. The highlight of the performance was, without a doubt, the 4th movement vocal solo by Finnish mezzo Lilli Paasikivi. Her gorgeous voice and consummate phrasing worked like a nucleus around which both conductor and orchestra could briefly unite before returning to the battlefield.

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