Manic Resurrection Ends in Triumph
Walt Disney Concert Hall
Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 2, “Resurrection”
Miah Persson (soprano), Christianne Stotijn (mezzo-soprano)
Los Angeles Master Chorale, Grant Gershon (music director), Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, Gustavo Dudamel (conductor)
G. Dudamel (© Anna Hult)
The Los Angeles Philharmonic’s ongoing “Mahler Project” continued this week with a single performance of Gustav Mahler’s Second Symphony. The L.A. Phil brought the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela to collaborate on the massive Eighth Symphony, and also share in the workload. The piece is legendary in its scope and unparalleled in its emotional breadth. After Sunday night’s performance, at least one thing is certain: though the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra is not the Berlin Philharmonic, nor the L.A. Phil, it really did not matter to the packed audience in Disney Hall. For all of its technical flaws, the Venezuelans’ performance was energetic and emotionally triumphant in the end.
From the opening tremolo decrescendo to the overbearing accompaniment in “Urlicht,” this was a Resurrection crafted with a sledgehammer, not a chisel. The opening Allegro maestoso was ponderous and bombastic, with the lower brass resembling a band more than an orchestra. Indeed, tone was harsh from most sections when pressed, and disappointingly underwhelming from the crucial French horns. The violins were more strident than refined throughout and intonation was suspect from the first chair French horn and flute soloists in the most exposed moments of the second movement. The players frantically threw themselves into the music Dudamel led and the strain didn’t usually produce the best results.
Dudamel’s Mahler is manic. When it is slow, it is astonishingly slow. When it is fast, it is alarmingly so, and often the transitions between the two have little organic impetus. Dudamel’s Mahler blazes with raw power. It is angry, it is loud, and it is powerful. However, the power of Mahler’s ability to communicate the indescribably massive in the most intimate of terms, was lost in this performance. The “Sehr Mässig” in the first movement was plodding, without any connection or relation to the previous material, and the players were unable to sustain the energy through the fiendishly long phrases.
The second movement “Ländler” began with the slowest introduction of the subject I have ever heard, followed by the fastest counter-subject. Rhythmic articulations weren’t agreed upon across the sections with the cellos repeatedly slurring a pair of notes the upper strings had separated. The French horns’ lack of authority was a hindrance as the exposed triplets from the first chair were painfully out of tune. Dudamel’s “Scherzo” was more playful than cynical and rushed to its brash conclusion. The ensuing “Urlicht,” the placid, intimate fourth movement that should be as moving as it is brief, fell flat. While mezzo-soprano Christianne Stotijn’s pitch was unreliable and her tone a bit bare, she was regal and steadying. Unfortunately, her accompaniment was not. While the soloist held her own as far as balance was concerned, her pathos was not shared, neither in intimacy nor nobility of sound.
The final movement allowed the Venezuelans to shine and put their energy and enthusiasm to their most effective uses. “Der Grosse Appell” was finely executed by the offstage brass, providing some of the most noble sounds of the evening. While some of the onstage playing in response to the call was devoid of awe and drama, it was still a welcome respite. The Los Angeles Master Chorale’s sound is perfectly suited to the “Auferstehen.” While it was not perfectly balanced, it was warm, comforting and authoritative. Miah Persson’s soprano was stunning and indeed elevated the entire performance to a higher plane of artistic authority. Finally, the thunderous concert organ of Disney Hall made an awe-inspiring noise as Mahler’s symphony concluded in triumph. Despite the technical deficiencies of the performance, the final “Auferstehen, ja auferstehen,” was Mahler at his purest and most convincing Sunday night. If there were issues with the execution and interpretation, we can be thankful that the concert concluded with no doubt that Gustav Mahler’s genius is as compelling as ever.
Matthew Richard Martinez