Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

European premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Le Chant des enfants des étoiles, with works by Biber and Beethoven

Excellent programming: worthy of Boulez, if hardly for the literal minded. (‘I think you’ll find [stroking chin] Beethoven didn’t know Unsuk Chin’s music, or Heinrich Biber’s. So … what are they doing together then? And … AND … why don’t you use period instruments? I rest my case!’)

Rising Stars in Concert 2018 at Lyric Opera of Chicago

On a recent weekend evening the performers in the current roster of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago presented a concert of operatic selections showcasing their musical talents. The Lyric Opera Orchestra accompanied the performers and was conducted by Edwin Outwater.

Arizona Opera Presents a Glittering Rheingold

On April 6, 2018, Arizona Opera presented an uncut performance of Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold. It was the first time in two decades that this company had staged a Ring opera.

Handel's Teseo brings 2018 London Handel Festival to a close

The 2018 London Handel Festival drew to a close with this vibrant and youthful performance (the second of two) at St George’s Church, Hanover Square, of Handel’s Teseo - the composer’s third opera for London after Rinaldo (1711) and Il pastor fido (1712), which was performed at least thirteen times between January and May 1713.

Camille Saint-Saens: Mélodies avec orchestra

Saint-Saëns Mélodies avec orchestra with Yann Beuron and Tassis Christoyannis with the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana conducted by Markus Poschner.

The Moderate Soprano

The Moderate Soprano and the story of Glyndebourne: love, opera and Nazism in David Hare’s moving play

The Spirit of England: the BBCSO mark the centenary of the end of the Great War

Well, it was Friday 13th. I returned home from this moving and inspiring British-themed concert at the Barbican Hall in which the BBC Symphony Orchestra and conductor Sir Andrew Davis had marked the centenary of the end of World War I, to turn on my lap-top and discover that the British Prime Minister had authorised UK armed forces to participate with French and US forces in attacks on Syrian chemical weapon sites.

Thomas Adès conducts Stravinsky's Perséphone at the Royal Festival Hall

This seemed a timely moment for a performance of Stravinsky’s choral ballet, Perséphone. April, Eliot’s ‘cruellest month’, has brought rather too many of Chaucer’s ‘sweet showers [to] pierce the ‘drought of March to the root’, but as the weather finally begins to warms and nature stirs, what better than the classical myth of the eponymous goddess’s rape by Pluto and subsequent rescue from Hades, begetting the eternal rotation of the seasons, to reassure us that winter is indeed over and the spirit of spring is engendering the earth.

Dido and Aeneas: La Nuova Musica at Wigmore Hall

This performance of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas by La Nuova Musica, directed by David Bates, was, characteristically for this ensemble, alert to musical details, vividly etched and imaginatively conceived.

Bernstein's MASS at the Royal Festival Hall

In 1969, Mrs Aristotle Onassis commissioned a major composition to celebrate the opening of a new arts centre in Washington, DC - the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, named after her late husband, President John F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated six years earlier.

Hans Werner Henze : The Raft of the Medusa, Amsterdam

This is a landmark production of Hans Werner Henze's Das Floß der Medusa (The Raft of the Medusa) conducted by Ingo Metzmacher in Amsterdam earlier this month, with Dale Duesing (Charon), Bo Skovhus and Lenneke Ruiten, with Cappella Amsterdam, the Nieuw Amsterdams Kinderen Jeugdkoor, and the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, in a powerfully perceptive staging by Romeo Castellucci.

Johann Sebastian Bach, St John Passion, BWV 245

This was the first time, I think, since having moved to London that I had attended a Bach Passion performance on Good Friday here.

Easter Voices, including mass settings by Mozart and Stravinsky

It was a little early, perhaps, to be hearing ‘Easter Voices’ in the middle of Holy Week. However, this was not especially an Easter programme – and, in any case, included two pieces from Gesualdo’s Tenebrae responsories for Good Friday. Given the continued vileness of the weather, a little foreshadowing of something warmer was in any case most welcome. (Yes, I know: I should hang my head in Lenten shame.)

Academy of Ancient Music: St John Passion at the Barbican Hall

‘In order to preserve the good order in the Churches, so arrange the music that it shall not last too long, and shall be of such nature as not to make an operatic impression, but rather incite the listeners to devotion.’

Fiona Shaw's The Marriage of Figaro returns to the London Coliseum

The white walls of designer Peter McKintosh’s Ikea-maze are still spinning, the ox-skulls are still louring, and the servants are still eavesdropping, as Fiona Shaw’s 2011 production of The Marriage of Figaro returns to English National Opera for its second revival. Or, perhaps one should say that the servants are still sleeping - slumped in corridors, snoozing in chairs, snuggled under work-tables - for at times this did seem a rather soporific Figaro under Martyn Brabbins’ baton.

Lenten Choral Music from the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

Time was I could hear the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge almost any evening I chose, at least during term time. (If I remember correctly, Mondays were reserved for the mixed voice King’s Voices.)

A New Faust at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s innovative, new production of Charles Gounod’s Faust succeeds on multiple levels of musical and dramatic representation. The title role is sung by Benjamin Bernheim, his companion in adventure Méphistophélès is performed by Christian Van Horn.

Netrebko rules at the ROH in revival of Phyllida Lloyd's Macbeth

Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a play of the night: of dark interiors and shadowy forests. ‘Light thickens, and the crow/Makes wing to th’ rooky wood,’ says Macbeth, welcoming the darkness which, whether literal or figurative, is thrillingly and threateningly palpable.

San Diego’s Ravishing Florencia

Daniel Catán’s widely celebrated opera, Florencia en el Amazonas received a top tier production at the wholly rejuvenated San Diego Opera company.

Samantha Hankey wins Glyndebourne Opera Cup

Four singers were awarded prizes at the inaugural Glyndebourne Opera Cup, which reached its closing stage at Glyndebourne on 24th March. The Glyndebourne Opera Cup focuses on a different single composer or strand of the repertoire each time it is held. In 2018 the featured composer was Mozart and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment accompanied the ten finalists.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Gustav Mahler: Symphony no. 2 “Resurrection”
22 Sep 2005

MAHLER: Symphony no. 2 “Resurrection”

Among recent recordings of music by Gustav Mahler, the 2004 release of the composer’s Second Symphony conducted by Claudio Abbado stands out as an intense and highly charged performance.

Gustav Mahler: Symphony no. 2 “Resurrection”

Claudio Abbado, conductor, Eteri Gvazava, soprano, Anna Larsson, contralto, Lucerne Festival Orchestra, Orfeón Donostiarra (Chorus Master: José Antonio Sainz Alfaro), Orchestra.

Euroarts 2053268 [DVD]

 

That CD (Deutsche Grammophon CD B 0003397-02, which includes Debussy’s La mer) was recorded between 14 and 19-20 August 2003 at the Kultur- und Kongresszentrum, Lucerne, Switzerland, and this DVD is a video of the concert given on 21 August 2003. Since the DVD was recorded as a single take, it was subject to less manipulation of the sound in the studio than the multiple sessions involved with the CD. Most of all, the DVD also conveys visually the interactions between the conductor, orchestra, soloists, and chorus.

Mahler’s Second Symphony is a particularly visual work, and seeing it performed contributes to an understanding of the musical sounds involved. Given the large forces used for it, the visual space has a bearing on the sonic landscape, and this is an important aspect of Mahler’s music, and it is important to see how the music takes shape as it is performed. Some sounds are idiomatic to the work, like the “Rute” (bundle of sticks) used in the Scherzo (the third movement), the various points where bells of instruments must be lifted in the air, and other places where the techniques that Mahler wrote into his score help to create the sound world of the Second Symphony.

At the same time, Abbado is a dynamic conductor, and as much as his recordings are effective, it is useful to see him in action. The camera angles in this DVD offer various glimpses of the conductor at work with his ensemble, including shots from the perspective of the orchestra and also from above the podium, as well as conventional views from the audience. Without focusing overly much on Abbado, this DVD shows him engaging the orchestra in the performance, as he refines the shape of the work from this well-rehearsed and highly perceptive orchestra.

The camera moves from conductor to orchestra somewhat frequently in the first movement, and that underscores the way Mahler used the various motives that develop into the piece that was once performed as the tone poem “Todtenfeier.” Yet the images change just as rapidly in the second movement, the slow movement of the Symphony, and at that point it is somewhat distracting. To have the camera shift every few seconds disrupts the longer musical lines that are integral to the slow movement. By allowing the images to shift so rapidly, with the camera moving from one solo instrument to another, the DVD gives the impression of a kind of highlighted score, with the graphics geared toward a predetermined effect.

In terms of visuals, this movement in particular would work better if the images were fitted better to the music, with longer pans, including images of sections, instead of the predisposition for close-ups. At the same time, some shots in this movement are not entirely appropriate. When the trumpet entrance intersects the transition (before rehearsal no. 7, for example), the sight of the very red-faced trumpet player does not match the effortless-sounding passage. These are small points compared to the overall effect of the DVD, which is to capture the excellent performance and to convey something of its spirit. Yet when they do occur, the kind of longer shots and transitions that occur around rehearsal number 3 of the final movement are effective and suit the music well.

Moreover, the impressive chorus is a prominent visual image in the Finale, and while the singers are seated throughout much of that movement, their stolid faces make the sounds all the more effective. At some point the chorus stands, and it is to the credit of the producer that their rising is not captured, since such physical movement is often a cliché in performances of this work. Yet when the standing chorus intones the fortissimo sections, their attention is as impressive as that of the orchestra, with all the performers incredibly focused on making music with gazes fixed on the conductor.

Likewise, it is useful to see Abbado’s expressive touch with the orchestra as he shapes the sounds. His visual cues suggest how he makes this score work so well. The nodding approval he gives to a player executing a solo part well shows his personable manner with the ensemble in medias res, and reflects his involvement with the music. This is especially evident near the ending of the Finale, where a close-up of the musician playing the tubular bells frames Abbado, and creates a particularly striking image. The camera then takes the viewer to Abbado, whose image in the closing moments contributes an appropriate tone to the music. Abbado’s gracious gesture to the orchestra, with his hands folded (as in a namaskara), as the applause swells says more than spoken words from a conductor about being indebted to his performers. To see the conductor’s deference to the other musicians is impressive, as is the enthusiastic response of the audience.

The soloists are quite fine, with Anna Larson’s rich contralto sound contributing a particularly memorable quality to the vocal line of the fourth movement, Mahler’s setting of the Wunderhorn poem “Urlicht.” Larson works well with the soprano Eteri Gvazava in the Finale, where the solo lines carry the text that is critical to the choral passages with which the Symphony concludes. Gvazava has an engaging sound, and both women perform their roles with apparent ease and from a position within the ensemble, where their voices can blend with the accompanying instruments.

All in all, the DVD is well produced, with crisp images and fine sound. While the sound is not entirely as resonant as that found on the Deutsche Grammophon CD, the recording levels used with the DVD serve the music well enough, with the softer passages clearly present, and the sometimes shattering crescendos rendered well. The DVD offers subtitles in German, French, Italian, Spanish, and English, so that viewers can follow the sung portions of the work. Nevertheless, this is not a substitute for including the sung text and translations in the booklet that accompanies such an otherwise fine DVD as this one. In addition to including those texts, a further refinement that would assist a large-scale work like this is the banding of various sections of the movements as found on the audio CD. Other refinements of a DVD like this would be to include tracking to coordinate the performance to measures in the score; related to this would be the inclusion of a scanned image of the score on a DVD, for those who might want to view it while hearing the music or simply have easy access to the notation. Suggestions like these should by no means infer problems with this specific DVD. It is an outstanding performance, and we are fortunate to have it preserved in this format.

Beyond the performance of the Symphony itself, the credits on the DVD are interestingly placed over the scene of the orchestra taking its leave from the stage. The camera continued to roll as orchestra members took their leave from each other and captured apparently old friends and acquaintances saying good-bye to each other or exchanging a few words to their colleagues. More than the concert itself, these scenes contribute a sense of the camaraderie that was implicit the performance. These fleeting moments, which are ultimately separate from the recorded work, help to set this particular DVD apart, too, from other filmed concerts.

The performance captured on this DVD also attests to Abbado’s dedication to Mahler’s music and his inspired leadership at the podium. While others may have their own preferred recordings of Mahler’s Second Symphony, this DVD, like the CD recorded around the same time, has much to recommend. Abbado and all the performers meet the challenge of the score, which is essentially a symphonic cantata that is made up of chamber-music-like sections. An effective performance of Mahler’s Second Symphony should not rely solely on the broad, theatrical strokes that are indeed part of the Finale of the work, but also the subtle moments in the score that must be executed well, to create the effective performance that is found on this DVD.

James L. Zychowicz
Madison, Wisconsin

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):