Monday, April 30, 2007

Maris and his Mahler

A packed Musikverein, Maris Janssons, his Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Mahler's 7th, as always a monumental piece with a huge orchestra, with 5 movements. The podium was tightly packed, and those poor audience members sitting at the top of the rostrum had to peer round the double basses.

I must admit to not knowing this symphony very well, though there were moments that I recognized. I was also thinking about what makes Mahler distinctive, apart from his monumental scores, and very long pieces. Decided that it's his use of Austrian motifs, both rhythmic and in terms of intervals, and his heavy use of trills, often from the clarinet, but also the upper strings (maybe they are supposed to remind of a zither??). Don't think anyone else after the Baroque period uses them quite so often.

It's funny how often his second movements are quite relaxing, after very tortuous and heavy first movements, often with rural dances or well-known tunes - that's the case in the second, seventh and ninth symphonies, as far as I can remember, and which one is the one with 'Frere Jacques'? Apparently this symphony describes the journey from night to day. I wish I had read the wikipedia entry before the concert...

Janssons has a delightful way of conducting, very active, dancing around on the rostrum, sometimes both feet flat on the floor but more often not, often smiling at his players - it must be a joy to play for him, at least in a concert. But it takes it out of him, and he needs quite long rests between movements to catch his breath.

It was a wonderful performance, full of energy, with Janssons drawing the sound out of his orchestra by his fingertips, massaging the music. The double basses really drove the music on and supported everything. The violas had some beautiful solos, and especially one long passsage together with the cellos was oozing with chocolate. Some of the instruments were almost inaudible, though, such as the lute and guitar in the fourth movement, and the cowbells which we could see but not hear. Perhaps some of the Austrian moments could have been a little more Austrian, but you may have to have that in your blood. Overall it was a fantastic evening, and I know now which seat to buy next time I go to the Musikverein.....