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A glimpse of the cosmos

Kultur- und Kongresscentrum Luzern
09/03/2010 -  
Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 3
Anna Larsson (alto)
Ladies of the Schweizer Kammerchor, Boys from the Luzerner Knabenkantorei, Koninklijk Concertgebouworkest, Mariss Jansons (conductor)

M. Jansons (© Peter Fischli)

Mahler said that his Third Symphony went to the very heart of existence where one felt the very tremor of the world and of God. From the start Mahler had in mind a homage to nature in all its guises. That is, of course, an enormous undertaking and one can argue whether this work goes any way in achieving such a lofty objective. That said, I do not think this performance quite hit the spot.

There is no doubting Jansons as a very fine conductor and the Concertgebouw Orchestra as one of the finest orchestras in the world, perhaps even the best, if one goes along with surveys in “The Gramophone” magazine. Jansons’ direct and outgoing style suits many works (Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, Shostakovich) but Mahler needs just a little more soul-searching and Angst than was apparent here. The Concertgebouw are one of the many orchestras putting on a Mahler cycle, over two years, but with a number of conductors. A sensible idea in the circumstances.

The orchestra did sound wonderful, from the splendid trombones (particular the Principal), the lustrous strings, the burnished woodwind; one’s expectations in this regard were, by and large, met. Jansons’ tempi and dynamics were never unusual nor misjudged, but the sense of tension in the darker passages and excitement at the climaxes were largely, and surprisingly missing.

Jansons, at 67 and after his heart trouble, can still manage a jump in the air when required and there is a clear rapport between him and his orchestra. Jansons can move from precision engineering to lustrous evocation as the music demands but that final leap transforming six disparate movements into a unified piece (a hard task I admit) and a glimpse of the cosmos was not really achieved.

Anna Larsson veritably towered over the orchestra (she was placed mid-stage) to deliver ”O Mensch! Gib Acht!”, firm and secure in tone, noble in bearing. The ladies of the Schweizer Kammerchor did no wrong as such but nor did they sound too happy, perhaps conscious that this will be one of their final major concerts, State and cantonal funding for the choir having sadly, it appears from newspaper reports, been lost, after only 13 years of existence. The Luzerner Knaben could have been a little louder and clearer with their “Bimms” and their “Bamms” but intonation was spot on.

Warm praise for the virtually perfect off-stage post horn, the Leader with his many fine violin contributions and the two perfectly judged timpanists, sounding as one in the final bars. But by the end I realise I had missed that Abbado or Tennstedt feeling that causes the spine to shiver and the Earth to move.

John Rhodes



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