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Ionarts-at-Large: Bavaro-Russian Peace Orchestra with Gergiev

Mahler 5” on one rehearsal—a dress rehearsal—with an orchestra that’s never played together like that: it’s a welcome taster of what’s to come for the Munich Philharmonic under incoming music director Valery Gergiev… even if they won’t likely share their desks with colleagues from the Mariinsky Orchestra again, as they did as part of this well intentioned gimmick to celebrate the German-Russian Year 2013 on June 30th.

The result of such a concert, flown by the seats of the musician’s pants, is at best unpredictable. A few times the audacity of the spur-of-the-moment nature can carry an able and willing orchestra to exciting results. More likely it’ll just be an uninspiring mess, and that’s more or less what it was here.

available at Amazon Mahler, Symphony 5, R.Barshai / Junge Dt. Phil.

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It wasn’t meant to be great, either… de facto sabotaged as the event was by a high-pitch creaking somewhere on stage… like a massive hearing-aid gone awry, but more likely a microphone on stage producing feedback—always and in every piano and pianissimo section. It was admirable that Gergiev managed not to make a face. Apart from that, there was a broad carpet of strings, on which Mahler was rolled out: hazy and imprecise if not altogether disturbing. The ensemble work elsewhere was just about good enough (which is another way of saying: not good enough), and the only outstanding elements were the flawless, inspired solo trumpet and the marvelous solo horn (both from the Philharmonic).

In a superficial way, it’s easy to get away with mediocrity in Mahler and still impress the listeners. The ten-minute Adagietto sounded rather longer than it was, but it will always remain beautiful. And if you bang away loudly enough at the rambunctious outer movements, you get a thunderous introduction and a rousing wake-up call that people can appreciate. Had Haydn been played that way, though, people would have left mid-symphony, bored to sad and under-rehearsed tears.

If this somehow helped contribute to the peaceful coexistence of the Bavarian and Russian people, it was worth it. But to Mahler, it contributed nothing.