After having been its opera’s music director for eight years, Zubin Mehta is much beloved in Munich. When he stops by in town, concerts – at least those at the State Opera – are sold out and the crowds are lapping up what he gives them.
Same on Monday and Tuesday, December 15th / 16th, at the Second Academy Concert of the Bavarian State Orchestra, although even the greatest home field advantage could not elicit more than timid, embarrassed applause after an appalling performance of Mozart’s Sinfonia concertante. Markus Wolf (concert master of the Bavarian State Orchestra) and Dietrich Cramer (1st violist) delivered competent fiddling at best, occasionally approximating proper intonation. There is no point spending many more words on what was a unloving, limpid, indeed: worthless performance - except to say that it was an insult to the audience, and unworthy of such a fine orchestra.
This would seem not have bode well for Mahler’s Fifth Symphony to follow, but thankfully the performance didn’t add insult to injury, it redeemed the orchestra completely and delighted – rightfully – the audience. From the first notes it was as if a different orchestra had taken over. Distinct voices were audible, enthusiasm palpable, the playing tight, the ensemble cohesive. The Scherzo was faultless, the horns in good shape – only the oboes had a few, negligible, lapses. Particularly lovely in the Adagietto was the low pizzicato of the double basses that just melted into the string sound – as if an extension of the harp. Similarly delightful were the various degrees of piano and pianissimo that Mehta coaxed from the strings. The whole thing was milked for effect á la Death in Venice (but, crucially, not too much) and invested with much labor designed to impress the audience. The result was a temperate reading that sounded even slower than the 10 minutes it took and fulfilled even the highest expectations. Turned into absolute music, Mehta’s Mahler was interpretation-free, but played so well and with so much commitment, that that was never a detriment.
There has been a derth of Mahler in Munich: just three ‘native’ performances that I caught in the last two years – and of those (the BRSO in Das Lied der Erde, the Munich Philharmonic in the Ninth – and the visiting Dresden Staatskapelle in the First), this was the best.
Mahler, Symphony No.5, R.Chailly, Concertgebouw Amsterdam
Mahler, Symphony No.5, P.Boulez, WPh