Sunday, October 2, 2011

Mahler 1 in the Digital Concert Hall; Zubin Mehta and a Celebration of Intensities

Zubin Mehta led the Berliner Philharmoniker, on the 50th anniversary of the year of his debut as guest conductor with the orchestra, in a stunning program that was transmitted live over the Digital Concert Hall.

The event began with the Orchestermusik, Op. 9 written in 1948 by Gottfried von Einem (1918-1996). This was an attractive work punctuated by military gestures, but driven by long lines that were draped on inventive and engaging textures. It was music that spoke with an identifiable voice and made me eager to explore more of von Einem's music.
Next, cellist Johannes Moser joined the orchestra as soloist in the Cello Concerto by Robert Schumann. Moser is a cellist with ideas, and this event was the perfect platform for him to showcase the electrifying technical command and also the fluency of his musical thinking.

Moser embraced the rich fragments of style and intention that comprise the Schumann concerto. While many soloists try to join these contrasts, Moser let them collide and the results were impressive. It was in the development of the first movement that we were first able to hear the impact of this strategy. The Berliner Philharmoniker edged their gestures and kept the sound moving like a machine. Moser was able to use his lines to contrast and resist, pushing against and later becoming attracted by that very different sound. The movement became about poetic resistance to mechanization.

When the parallelism in the recapitulation was broken to move toward the second movement, one could not help but to hear the falling 5th played by Moser as a voiced invocation to Clara herself. It was easy to imagine the poet seeking haven through her spirit. Moser delighted in the intricacies of the third movement and seemed to amplify its rock & roll through the force of his own charisma.

Well received by the audience, Moser played a well chosen encore. He played the sarabande from the first Bach cello suite. This meditative dance was the perfect resolution for the concerto, as the spirit of Bach so often both followed and haunted Schumann.   

After intermission we heard Mahler's Symphony No. 1 performed with the Blumine movement that was discarded by Mahler during the process that bridged the composition of the work and led to its final published format. In fact, Mahler himself conducted this symphony with the Berliner Philharmoniker at around the time that he first conceived of the work as a symphony instead of a symphonic poem. After Mahler's death the "Blumine" movement was lost, and it was not rediscovered until 1966. The movement was reintroduced to the 20th century just down the street from me, by the New Haven Symphony, in the Spring of 1968.

Mehta performed the work with the Blumine movement reattached. It was wonderful to hear the work this way, and I actually prefer it to the version we normally hear.

In the finale of the symphony there was a critical passage where a quotation from the introduction of the first movement falls from D-flat down to C and opens on a vista of quotations over a long C pedal. The second theme group from the Blumine movement was quoted there, as were many other moments in the symphony. With the Blumine intact it made everything seem plugged in again without loose ends.

Mehta was in great form. He is a master of economy, but when he moves the entire orchestra shines. The recapturing of D major as the work closed was a powerful moment, writ large over the course of more than an hour through a summation of details, a celebration of intensities.

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