The Spirit Was Wiilling
Isaac Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall
Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 8 in E flat major, "Symphony of a Thousand"
Viktoria Yastrebova (Soprano, Magna Peccatrix), Anastasia Kalagina (Soprano, Una poenitentium), Liudmila Dudinova (Soprano Mater gloriosa), Olga Savova (Mezzo-Soprano, Mulier Samaritana), Zlata Bulycheva (Mezzo-Soprano, Maria Aegyptiaca), Avgust Amonov (Tenor, Doctor Marianus), Alexei Markov (Baritone, Pater Ecstaticus), Evgeny Nikitin (Bass, Pater Profundus)
Orfeón Pamplonés, Igor Ijurra Fernández (Director), The Choral Arts Society of Washington, Norman Scribner (Artistic Director), Brooklyn Youth Chorus Academy, Dianne Berkun (Artistic Director), Mariinsky Orchestra, Valery Gergiev (Music Director and Conductor)
Brooklyn Youth Chorus (© Columbia Artists Management)
The Symphony of a Thousand may musically be the least problematic of all Mahler’s symphonies. All you need is a) one super-sized orchestra, including mandolin and organ; b) one full-sized mixed chorus; c) an extremely dextrous children’s chorus; d) lots of proficient soloists, none of whom have much to do; e) a very spacious resonant concert hall; and f) a conductor who can lift his baton and raise the rafters, louder and louder…and louder.
Valery Gergiev didn’t fit the Maestro role in only one respect. He didn’t raise his baton because his ten fingers are as eloquent as a piece of wood. But from the first great organ chord, this was a work which was so far above his previous performances of Mahler this week, that it was like a different conductor.
In Carnegie Hall, which isn’t quite London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral, where Gergiev once conducted this, he had a virtual sound theater. True, the 300-odd players were packed onto the stage, but the sounds were good. Two years ago, Lorin Maazel had to place brass consorts in the highest balconies of Avery Fisher Hall to make his point. But Carnegie Hall doesn’t need these obvious artifices.
Then too, Maestro Gergiev had three–count ’em, three–choruses which had more than volume. The combination of Washington Choral Arts Society and Spain’s Orfeón Pamplonés had such lucidity of tone, such beautiful phrasing and such passion that it was secondary that the German and Latin words were not quite understood down in the 19th row. As for the Brooklyn Youth Chorus Academy, it seems that produce the best, no matter what the demands. If anything, they responded with even more alacrity to Maestro Gergiev’s hands than Mr. Maazel’s baton.
V. Yastabrova (© Askonas Holt)
The soloists, placed off to the stage-right corner, were not terribly impressive, except for Ms. Yastabrova’s small role. The more weighty part of Doctor Marianus was taken by a last-minute substitute tenor, who alas, had to force his voice badly.
But now we come to the Mariinsky Orchestra which produced far more than the velocity and excitement of the previous evenings. The percussion, were not spread across the back, as in the Sixth, or hugging a corner of the proscenium, as in the Resurrection. They were placed discreetly behind the double basses. Here, in the beginning, the mach theme was carried lucidly from choruses of horn to oboes to flute//bassoon and back to horns.
But the Mariinsky was heard best at the beginning of the Second Part. This was far from the Catholic-Lutheran hymn feeling of Part One, and it would soon be drama. But Maestro Gergiev, more than Mr. Maazel, produced an atmosphere of almost frightening mysticism. I doubt if Mahler acknowledged music prior to J. S. Bach, but these wind sounds, scattered from different parts of the orchestra, harked back to an earlier religion without trying to imitate the modal or isorhythmic motives. Mahler describes this as being around mountain gorges, but Mr. Gergiev conducted as though it were a dark endless underground.
Whatever it was, the orchestral section here was evocative of something far far deeper than the notes themselves. (And oh, what regrets that Mahler never wrote an opera, for he was so much a man of the theater.)
After this introduction, the Symphony of a Thousand had a breadth, an energy, and at the end, even a warmth which had been missing previously this week. So many wonderful moments were produced by the transcendent Mahler that Gergiev needed no special energies, no sledgehammers or rushed playing to produce a work of massed luxurious sounds and, at times, a magnificent religious affirmation.