Sunday, July 09, 2006

CONCERT REVIEW: Mahler 3/LSO

Ivan Hewett of The (London) Telegraph offers this review (6/29/06)of PJ's Mahler 3 with the London Symphony:

LSO/Järvi at the Barbican

Earlier this week, the LSO filled a whole concert with Mahler's Third Symphony.

There's a part of me that's still holding out against Mahler's vast, neurotically intense symphonies. The very first notes of the symphony were enough to make my hackles rise. Does it really need nine horns to make that opening melody impressive? Doesn't that solemn funeral tread in the first movement come round once too often, and isn't all that military-style bombast just a bit, well, bombastic?

But then comes the contralto solo in the fourth movement, intoning Nietzsche's solemn text against an unfathomably deep bass, the high string harmonics like a shaft of sun piercing an abyss. And instantly I swing round to thinking Mahler is a great composer after all.

Of course, it's the message of these symphonies that the sublime and the banal belong together, but finding a performance that knits them together convincingly is rare. Here, trombonist Katy Pryce brought out the nobility lurking amid the noise. Contralto Lilli Paasikivi had a tremor of intensity in her voice, which brought an interestingly different tone to the spacious and serene fourth movement.

Holding all this together with a discreet yet very firm hand was conductor Paavo Järvi. At first he seemed altogether too cleanly efficient for a Mahler symphony, where a certain bravura and visible emoting is called for from the conductor. But he was saving himself for the final slow movement, which brought the symphony to an end in a mood of triumphant and spacious radiance.

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