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Ionarts-at-Large: Maazel's Warhorses

Every praise of Maazel from city or orchestra officials smacks of desperation, full of preemptive retaliatory barbs against Christian Thielemann; coded in language that stresses—beyond breaking point—the variety of repertoire that Maazel brings to the Munich Philharmonic. A worthy cause, variety, but undermined by programs like this:

Wagner: Tannhäuser Overture, Debussy: La Mer, Stravinsky: Le Sacre du Printemps. Warhorses, all of them, and connected by having nothing in common. Thielemann might not have done Le Sacre, and even if it hasn’t been played during his reign, it’s not the epitome of variety. Ditto Debussy, and the Wagner was performed only months ago, together with Bruckner’s Third Symphony, itself a repeat from the previous season. So much for double standards.

available at Amazon
French & Russian Music (incl. La Mer),
S.Celibidache / Munich Philharmonic
EMI (11 CDs)

The redemption of Tannhäuser—the performance, not the repenting character—was its quality: slow and solemn but not ponderous, not profound but gorgeous, pockmarked by coughs, and just the thing for us as an in-concert curtain opener. Beautiful individual contributions from winds in particular were notable. After the deftly handled, lugubrious Wagner the wiry, energetic, visibly aging Maazel dove into La Mer: long on precision, short on atmosphere, the sinewy, brassy, bold interpretation featured nicely legislated cellos with an aftertaste of section signs. The loud ending was cheap but effective, as loud endings usually are. Le Sacre’s opening bassoon melody wail was pretty, more like Tristan Act III cor anglais, and not snarled, like a strangled Chinese goose. It was an opening full with anticipation and without fulfillment. The sallow John-Williams-memorial-interpretation was relieved by the onset of the famous rippled rhythmical beat at the heart of Le Sacre. Here accuracy pays dividends even where fire and inspiration are missing. The rest was surprisingly crude… surprising in part because you’d think that should suite the piece. It probably would, too, in a full-out-ballet production. In concert the effect depreciated the experience.