Sunday, July 10, 2011

Some Badass Mahler

Heilige Dankgesang! I've only listened to the first two movement of this, and this may be the finest performance of Mahler 3's 32-minute opening I've ever heard, or of the much smaller second movement. Eliahu Inbal is one of the world's most underrated conductors, and here he got hold of the world's greatest Mahler orchestra, the Concertgebouw of Amsterdam, by subbing for their regular director at the time, Riccardo Chailly. Much as I love Chailly much of the time, his interpretation of Mahler 3 is far the most exciting one can hear. I remember a review of this particular performance in a British newspaper in which members of the orchestra was said to look extremely irritated with Inbal. I can only imagine that it was because because Inbal pushed these players to a level of commitment for which Chailly's cool demeanor would never allow. Next to Rafael Kubelik, I don't think there's a conductor whose conception of Mahler is closer to my own than Inbal's. Mahler's music has become far too easy for most orchestras, and along with the mastery comes a lack of need to demonstrate commitment. Mahler is now as easy to make boring as Beethoven ever was. Go to Universal Music's Mahler Anniversary website and you can hear interviews with famous conductor after conductor who rails against Mahler interpreters who carry the music to enormous excess (which is of course conductorese for 'Screw You Leonard Bernstein'). But what both Kubelik and Inbal show in their numerous Mahler recordings is that you don't have to rein in the dangerous passions of Mahler's music in order to preserve his formal structures. There is no rambling here, yet none of the bizarre phantasmagoria that make Mahler Mahler is lost. This is a Mahler who looks backward to Beethoven at the same time that he looks forward to Shostakovich. Form and content synthesize seemlessly (and anybody who thinks Shostakovich was anything but precise in his construction needs to reexamine the music). In bad performances, this monsterpiece can spin boredom by the yard. In this performance, every note matters. That, ultimately, is the definition of a great music-making.

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