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Gustavo Dudamel  [Photo by Nohely Oliveros]
26 Mar 2016

Mahler’s Third, Concertgebouw

Evolving in Mahler’s Third: Dudamel and L.A. Philharmonic’s impressive adaption to the Concertgebouw

Mahler’s Third, Concertgebouw

A review by David Pinedo

Above: Gustavo Dudamel [Photo by Nohely Oliveros]


After 21 years, the Los Angeles Philharmonic returned to Amsterdam. Gustavo Dudamel made the gutsy choice to perform Mahler’s Symphony No. 3. Adding a mythological dimension to the piece, Mahler conducted it at the Concertgebouw in 1903, so it takes some cojones to perform it here. Tonight’s performance grew into a success: while the second half of the performance impressed, the first part suffered from balancing issues and at times extremely loud play. As they slowly mastered the acoustics of the Great Hall, it was intriguing to witness Dudamel maneuver his orchestra’s greatly improving play over the performance.

The longest symphony in the Romantic repertoire, Mahler’s Third Symphony consists of six movements. Lasting over thirty minutes, the first movement Kraftig. Entschieden is almost a symphony in its own right. As Dudamel opened, immediately the volume hurt the ears. Throughout the first movement, the maestro made work of lowering the intensity of his sections.

The acoustics at the Concertgebouw are infamously tricky. Even performers from the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra prefer the Musikverein in Vienna, because there they can hear each other, at the Concertgebouw less so. It is up to the Maestro to balance the orchestra. Experienced conductors know how to appropriate these effects and thereby enhance the orchestra's sound. Dudamel is one of these, though tonight it took the Venezuelan conductor quite some time before his orchestra found the dynamic.

Within the first movement, Dudamel reduced the piercingly shrill brass, bringing out a golden glow resonating from the trombones (with RCO’s Jörgen van Rijen as guest soloist). After some adjustment, from the strings a throbbing resonance emerged that carried a lot energy. Off-stage, snare drums marched on in the lobby. As the conductor dealt with balancing issues, the first movement experienced fragmented momentum, resulting in a repetitive moments. It took a while for Dudamel to reach his finesse.

Then Dudamel moved through the second and third movements Tempo di Menuetto and Commodo. Scherzando. Bending and skipping, he led LA Phil through Mahler’s rapidly changing tempi. Now less fragmented, he generated exciting momentum from his sections, though the continuing loud volume held you back from being swept off your feet. A delicate oboe solo offered a brief respite from the intensity, as did the subtly played soft colors from the trumpetist. Based on the musicians’ solo passages, there was no question about their excellence.

Finally everything came together in the fourth movement. Through the tranquil play, Dudamel created a haunting atmosphere. Reaching far into the audience, mezzo-soprano Tamara Mumford entranced with her darkened colours, adding a mysterious dimension. With fluid phrasing and clear diction, she brought out Zarathustra’s Mitternachtslied from Nietzsche. Dudamel deftly incorporated Mumford’s rich vibrato, as the impressive oboist returned as an exotic contrast and the concertmaster made his violin sing with great elegance.

For the fifth movement the Dutch choirs came into action with “Armer Kinder Bettlerlied” from Des Knaben Wunderhorn. ‘Bimm bamm bimm bamm’, Dudamel entwined the voices with his orchestra, which led to much cheer and joy. The trombones offered gentle resonance with their lower registers. Mumford joined in, disarming with ‘Ach komm und erbarme dich’.

In this uplifting atmosphere and with a thin, but taut tension, Dudamel could start the heavenly ascent in the final movement. After the steady guidance over the preceding segments, Dudamel and the orchestra finally clicked with the acoustics. To see the LA Phil adapt was truly a marvel!

Langsam—Ruhevoll—Empfunden , the Venezuelan thickened the strings’ suspense with a slow-burning momentum that kept the listener hooked. Brightness and brilliance glowed from the L.A. Phil. Gone was the painfully high volume. After a long and difficult journey, Dudamel had displayed his technical skills, as his orchestra adapted to its new environment. Now with full effect in Mahler’s heavenly finale, they had disarmed and moved the audience, who reacted in turn with a rapturous applause.

David Pinedo

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