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Same Old, Same Old

New York
Avery Fisher Hall
02/11/2005 -  
Gustav Mahler: Symphony # 7
New York Philharmonic
Riccardo Chailly (conductor)

Riccardo Chailly has not conducted the New York Philharmonic for the past twenty years, but we should not make too much of that. For many of those years, he was under contract to be the principal guest conductor just down the highway in Philadelphia, and fronting the band in Gotham City would have broken the unwritten rule of non-competitiveness. But now he is back for two weeks and began his sojourn with the mighty but misunderstood Symphony # 7 of Gustav Mahler.

There were indeed flashes of brilliance in this performance. The final one hundred or so measures of the first movement were extremely taut and well-executed, Maestro taking the caesura that many do not and proceeding from there to a very exciting, finale-style ending. Also the fourth movement was quite lovely throughout, although the third and last final note of the guitar was joined by a cell phone. The mandolin and guitar were strategically placed against the wall stage right and, as a result, were clear as bells for the entire delicious experience. One more point of praise: The horn section played masterfully in all five movements.

For the rest however, the Phil sound was its old tired self: Hard edged strings, sloppy woodwinds, cracking trumpets. There is a myth building in this town that Lorin Maazel has improved the sound of the ensemble as a whole, even as he has relaxed the discipline of Kurt Masur. Evidence continually points to the contrary, however, and the noticeable decline in proper sonority that he perpetrated in Cleveland seems to be rearing its ugly head once again. Please don’t tell me that they sound this unprofessional because of a couple of rehearsals with Maestro Chailly.

But speaking of Chailly, his conducting was decidedly unfocused except for the aforementioned moments. The second movement in particular was soupy: The only time that one could even perceive the form as a march was when either drums or plucked strings kept the beat. Otherwise, everyone, especially in the winds, was wandering off on their own. This was the sense in the first and last movements as well. And whoever had the idea to replace the bells and gongs with a thundersheet should be immediately earmarked by management for career redirection.

I had seriously thought about bringing my score to follow along, as I love this piece so much. Luckily I demurred. Otherwise I would have been just another person at Avery Fisher Hall who was not on the same page.

Frederick L. Kirshnit



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