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Power and pathos

Temirkanov conducts Mahler,
reviewed by

Water Lily Acoustics    WLA-WS-76-SACD

Gustav Mahler: Symphony No 5. Saint Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra. Yuri Temirkanov, conductor. © 2005 Water Lily Acoustics

From the very beginning [listen -- track 1, 0:05-1:11], Temirkanov catches hold of the enervating power and pathos of the great funeral march (what a way to kick off a symphony!!!!!!!!!!!) and never, even in the most wistful, Jewish sections, allows the overarching structure to falter. The principal trumpet is a master of dynamic nuance, the principal horn is luminous and dignified, the winds and brass have all the grandeur and sweep required, and the strings have that typically Russian lilt and seasoning. The balance can at times be marginally faulty, with the lower strings especially cowed by the trumpets and trombones (and occasionally even the drums); this is probably a by-product of a live performance, and one worth putting up with for the raucous, living-on-the-edge high-wire of the performance. (The first violins struggle when very high, as I fully expect Mahler meant them to ...)

For who'd prefer their Mahler jaded and distressed
by too much gloss, too little feistiness?

The overtones of death are all around, and Temirkanov catches the unease and ambivalence perfectly, the short-lived consolations, at which the little bitter interjections of the winds needle away. He is particularly adept at the lightning-flashes of altered mood, where some gentle theme is swivelled on a toothpick into some sardonic and windswept German bandstand [listen -- track 3, 14:37-15:52].

This work, along with Mahler's one, four, and six, were all performed by me in the ardent, quite mad and insanely adolescent world of the DC Youth Orchestra, under the inspired baton of Lyn McLain (who often attempted to conduct music not by Mahler but was never half so good). I say ardent, because of course we were between eleven and eighteen, and if you're not ardent then, what hope is there for you????? I say mad, because the very notion of teenagers attempting to come to grips with Mahler is perilously, extravagantly, and gloriously mad, and I say insanely adolescent because you can imagine how hormonal we all were, especially with all that Mahler buzzing around ... Half the orchestra was in love with the principal horn (that's Mahler for you!), the other half with the violin coach, and at least one with funny, hot-headed, ugly but fierily inspirational little Lyn McLain, because she wound up marrying him. (The violin coach, still more bizarrely, wound up moving to Pittsburgh in a long-lasting menage-à-trois with two of the female violins.) The principal cello (modesty prevents me from mentioning that I was, but this was the female cello principal just before me) was in love with the (also female) principal clarinet, and, frankly, the way we all played Mahler had to be heard to be believed. There's not a quirk in the winds, not a shift I can't remember playing (unlike the St Petersburg, who probably devoted to Mahler's 5th a week, we rehearsed it for hours every day for an entire summer), the whole thing redolent of so many feelings, and mistakes and people (and some of the people mistakes) ...

I don't often trouble to read notes on works I really, really know, but I think Hugh Polkinhorn's analysis ends with exactly the right note of elegiac wistfulness, after all the storms:

'The symphony concludes with a massive chorale' [listen -- track 5, 12:56-14:20], 'which turns out to be a transformation of the one with which the second movement made its unsuccessful attempt to wrench itself free from tragedy, in what now seems to have been another lifetime, and another world.'

And now our cogitations all are done
So why don't you buzz off and have some fun

or practice your sweet instrument without surcease
lest your technique go to pot and music cease?

Copyright © 14 October 2005 Alice McVeigh, Kent UK


Mahler: Symphony No 5

WLA-WS-76-SACD DSD/SACD Multichannel/Stereo Hybrid NEW RELEASE 70'59" 2005 Water Lily Acoustics

St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra; Yuri Temirkanov, conductor

Gustav Mahler (1860-1911): Symphony No 5 in C sharp minor (1901-2) (Trauermarsch. In gemessenem Schritt. Streng. Wie ein Kondukt; Stürmisch bewegt, mit größter Vehemenz; Scherzo. Kräftig, nicht zu schnell; Adagietto. Sehr langsam; Rondo-finale. Allegro - Allegro giocoso. Frisch)





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