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

This is Rattle: Blazing Berlioz at the Barbican Hall

Blazing Berlioz' The Damnation of Faust at the Barbican with Sir Simon Rattle, Bryan Hymel, Christopher Purves, Karen Cargill, Gabor Bretz, The London Symphony Orchestra and The London Symphony Chorus directed by Simon Halsey, Rattle's chorus master of choice for nearly 35 years. Towards the end, the Tiffin Boys' Choir, the Tiffin Girls' Choir and Tiffin Children's Choir (choirmaster James Day) filed into the darkened auditorium to sing The Apotheosis of Marguerite, their voices pure and angelic, their faces shining. An astonishingly theatrical touch, but absolutely right.

Moved Takes on Philadelphia Headlines

There‘s a powerful new force in the opera world and its name is O17.

Philly Flute’s Fast and Furious Frills

If you never thought opera could make your eyes cross with visual sensory over load, you never saw Opera Philadelphia’s razzle-dazzle The Magic Flute.

At War With Philadelphia

Enterprising Opera Philadelphia has included a couple of intriguing site-specific events in their O17 Festival line-up.

The Mozartists at the Wigmore Hall

Three years into their MOZART 250 project, Classical Opera have launched a new venture, The Mozartists, which is designed to allow the company to broaden its exploration of the concert and symphonic works of Mozart and his contemporaries.

Philadelphia: Putting On Great Opera Can Be Murder

Composer Kevin Puts and librettist Mark Campbell have gifted Opera Philadelphia (and by extension, the world) with a crackling and melodious new stage piece, Elizabeth Cree.

Mansfield Park at The Grange

In her 200th anniversary year, in the county of her birth and in which she spent much of her life, and two days after she became the first female writer to feature on a banknote - the new polymer £10 note - Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park made a timely appearance, in operatic form, at The Grange in Hampshire.

Elektra in San Francisco

Among the myriad of artistic innovation during the Kurt Herbert Adler era at San Francisco Opera was the expansion of the War Memorial Opera House pit. Thus there could be 100 players in the pit for this current edition of Strauss’ beloved opera, Elektra!

Mark Padmore on festivals, lieder and musical conversations

I have to confess, somewhat sheepishly, at the start of my conversation with Mark Padmore, that I had not previously been aware of the annual music festival held in the small Cotswolds town of Tetbury, which was founded in 2002 and to which Padmore will return later this month to perform a recital of lieder by Schubert and Schumann with pianist Till Fellner.

Turandot in San Francisco

Mega famous L.A. artist David Hockney is no stranger at San Francisco Opera. Of his six designs for opera only the Met’s Parade and Covent Garden’s Die Frau ohne Schatten have not found their way onto the War Memorial stage.

The School of Jealousy: Bampton Classical Opera bring Salieri to London

In addition to fond memories of previous beguiling productions, I had two specific reasons for eagerly anticipating this annual visit by Bampton Classical Opera to St John’s Smith Square. First, it offered the chance to enjoy again the tunefulness and wit of Salieri’s dramma giocoso, La scuola de’ gelosi (The School of Jealousy), which I’d seen the company perform so stylishly at Bampton in July.

Richard Jones' new La bohème opens ROH season

There was a decided nip in the air as I made my way to the opening night of the Royal Opera House’s 2017/18 season, eagerly anticipating the House’s first new production of La bohème for over forty years. But, inside the theatre in took just a few moments of magic for director Richard Jones and his designer, Stewart Laing, to convince me that I had left autumnal London far behind.

Giovanni Simon Mayr: Medea in Corinto

The Bavarian-born Johann Simon Mayr (1763–1845) trained and made his career in Italy and thus ended up calling himself Giovanni Simone Mayr, or simply G. S. Mayr. He is best known for having been composition teacher to Giuseppe Donizetti.

Robin Tritschler and Julius Drake open
Wigmore Hall's 2017/18 season

It must be a Director’s nightmare. After all the months of planning, co-ordinating and facilitating, you are approaching the opening night of a new concert season, at which one of the world’s leading baritones is due to perform, accompanied by a pianist who is one of the world’s leading chamber musicians. And, then, appendicitis strikes. You have 24 hours to find a replacement vocal soloist or else the expectant patrons will be disappointed.

The Opera Box at the Brunel Museum

The courtly palace may have been opera’s first home but nowadays it gets out and about, popping up in tram-sheds, car-parks, night-clubs, on the beach, even under canal bridges. So, I wasn’t that surprised to find myself following The Opera Box down the shaft of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Thames Tunnel at Rotherhithe for a double bill which brought together the gothic and the farcical.

Proms at Wiltons: Eight Songs for a Mad King

It’s hard to imagine that Peter Maxwell Davies’ dramatic monologue, Eight Songs for a Mad King, can bear, or needs, any further contextualisation or intensification, so traumatic is its depiction - part public history, part private drama - of the descent into madness of King George III. It is a painful exposure of the fracture which separates the Sovereign King from the human mortal.

Prokofiev: Cantata for the 20th Anniversary of the October Revolution: Gergiev, Mariinsky

Sergei Prokofiev's Cantata for the Twentieth Anniversary of the October Revolution, Op 74, with Valery Gergiev conducting the Mariinsky Orchestra and Chorus. One Day That Shook the World to borrow the subtitle from Sergei Eisenstein's epic film October : Ten Days that Shook the World.

Matthias Goerne: Bach Cantatas for Bass

In this new release for Harmonia Mundi, German baritone Matthias Goerne presents us with two gems of Bach’s cantata repertoire, with the texts of both BWV 56 and 82 exploring one’s sense of hope in death.  Goerne adeptly interprets the paradoxical combination of hope and despair that underpins these works, deploying a graceful lyricism alongside a richer, darker bass register.

Gramophone Award Winner — Matthias Goerne Brahms Vier ernste Gesänge

Winner of the 2017 Gramophone Awards, vocal category - Matthias Goerne and Christoph Eschenbach - Johannes Brahms Vier ernste Gesänge and other Brahms Lieder. Here is why ! An exceptional recording, probably a new benchmark.

A Prom of Transformation and Transcendence: Renée Fleming and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra

This Prom was all about places: geographical, physical, pictorial, poetic, psychological. And, as we journeyed through these landscapes of the mind, there was plenty of reminiscence and nostalgia too, not least in Samuel Barber’s depiction of early twentieth-century Tennessee - Knoxville: Summer of 1915.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Gustav Mahler: Symphony no. 1
09 Sep 2009

Mahler: Symphony no. 1

Among the important recent cycles of Mahler’s symphonies is the one underway by Valery Gergiev with the London Symphony Orchestra.

Gustav Mahler: Symphony no. 1

London Symphony Orchestra. Valery Gergiev, conductor.

LSO 063 [SACD]

$18.98  Click to buy

Still in process, the recordings of Symphonies nos. 2, 3, 6, and 7 have been issued to date, with the release of Symphony no. 8 immanent. (Gergiev included the Adagio of the unfinished Tenth Symphony with the recording of Symphony no. 2). In addition, the recently issued CD of the First Symphony stems from live performances given in January 2008 at the Barbican, London. From the outset the sound is vivid, and it matches the somewhat vibrant approach Valery Gergiev has taken for the first movement. Yet the rather quick tempos do not always match the character of the music As ambiguous as the marking “Wie ein Naturlaut” (“like a sound in nature”) may be, the suggestion is usually taken to allow the opening to take shape slowly. Instead of the kind of atmospheric introduction which other conductors achieve, the pacing of the short ideas that follow moves to the main theme of the movement very quickly. As clear as the performance is, the quick tempos do not allow the cantabile nature of the first theme emerge, as it should with its evocation of the second song from the cycle Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, “Ging heut’ morgen übers Feld.” While it has some very effective moments, the absence of such connections to the innate vocality of the first movement makes the piece seem disconnected from the style associated with Mahler’s music.

With the second movement, though, Gergiev maintains his crisp tempos, but here it fits better into the style of the piece. The lyrical theme of the second section is, on the other hand, played with such a decided slowness that the sense of tempo sometimes escapes. Nevertheless, the playing is precise and clean, but sometimes more percussive sounding than occurs in other performances. In this movement, though, the dynamic contrasts are pronounced nicely and support the musical structure well. Within the interplay of dynamics and articulation, the orchestral colors represent the score well, with the brass prominent without overbalancing the strings.

Such sensitivity to the timbre is crucial to the third movement, which begins almost imperceptibly. The canon on the tune “Bruder Martin” is paced nicely, with the wood line supporting the contrapuntal texture nicely. With the second section, the portion which Mahler once characterized as suggesting Bohemian town musicians, the popular, or folk-like idiom is apparent without being exaggerated. Gergiev is also good to shade the tempos nicely, and with them the solo instruments. The solo trumpet is notable for the shading that occurs here, and the overall effect is a fine representation of the score. In the middle section, the one in which Mahler develops melodic ideas from “Die zwei blauen Eigen,” the final song of his cycle Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, offers a fine contrast to the other ideas in the movement. Yet the sound levels of the final portion of the movement fade too soon.

Such a dramatic change in dynamic level does offer a setup for the opening of the Finale, which begins with a fine sense of drama. While tempos are not problematic for this movement, the sound levels are sometimes overbalanced. The extremes of dynamic level sometimes result in a fast-and-loud or slow-and-quiet dialectic. What needs to emerge in this movement are more sustained textures in which tone colors, dynamic levels, and articulations combine to create the effects Mahler scored. As with the other movements, the playing is satisfying throughout, but the nuances betray over- and understatement. The kind of sustained effects which Gergiev brought to his recent recording of Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony, for example, would work well here. The concluding in which the scalar theme that evokes for some Handel’s chorus “And he shall reign forever and ever,” as Stephen Johnson mentions in his liner notes, should emerge from the other ideas in the movement. Here, though, is seems disconnected from the larger structure. As much as the pacing of the concluding section is dramatic, the final two notes seem, perhaps, not sufficiently assertive.

Part of Gergiev’s cycle of Mahler’s symphonies with the London Symphony Orchestra, this recording has its merits, but it also raises questions about stylistic issues in performing this important early work by Mahler. The roles of tempo, thematic cohesion, and dynamic contrasts, and other elements are important to the effective execution of this work. As familiar as Mahler’s First Symphony may be to modern audiences, it remains a demanding score on the part of the interpreter. Again, as a live performance, this recording differs from some of the studio recordings, with exciting playing on the part of the London Symphony Orchestra.

James L. Zychowicz

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):