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Ionarts-at-Large: Enescu-Surprise and Mahler-Mediocrity

Enescu’s Symphonie concertante—his Cello Concerto by another name—is excellent programming (with an eye toward repeating the program in Bucharest for the George Enescu Festival) and wonderful music. The Munich Philharmonic’s crowd was drawn in by Mahler 1 (and a few ladies and boys perhaps because of the presence of Gautier Capuçon) and what they got was one of the most beautiful 20th century cello concertos. If, that is, something written in 1901 can be called “20th century” without misleading one’s expectations. Certainly its late romantic idiom that even the unadventurous subscription audience found agreeable is spiritually more at home in the 19th century, post-Wagnerian, with hints of Saint-Saëns, somewhere between Brahms in tone and Korngold in sweep and grand gesture—which the orchestra brought out nicely under Semyon Bychkov. In good form, Capuçon played it with strong, concentrated, and slightly nasal—in the best sense—tone, focusing on the fleet passages more than sheer beauty of sound and variety of expression. Mistaking friendly applause for universal rapture, he felt compelled to give an encore.

available at Amazon
G.Enescu, E.Dohnanyi, E.D'Albert, Cello Concertos,
A.Gerhardt / C.Kalmar / BBC Scottish SO

Somewhat like the Golden Gate Bridge is being perennially painted, Orchestras seem to have taken to Mahler in a never ending convulsion of cycles. Ending one means starting another. Understandable: Mahler draws audiences (for now), and it’s a lot easier to impress with that repertoire than something difficult like Haydn.

At least with the Munich Philharmonic, the Mahleria™ (Prokofiev) makes a good deal of sense: they are historically one of the three most important Mahler orchestras, having premiered three of his symphonies (No. 4, No.8, and Das Lied—more than any other orchestra). But they had elongated Mahler droughts under music directors Sergiu Celibidache and Christian Thielemann who believed in the power of Bruckner. Now the orchestra is making up for it, in this particular case with Mahler’s First. Tedium, sadly, reigned: Mahler turned to inoffensive entertainment, adding to the glut of Mahler without making it an exclamation mark. After a swiftly musical opening, the performance quickly went down into banality, charming but perfunctory even in the Klezmer bits, dotted with lots of individual mistakes and at its best (and also most effective) simply loud. Even discounting the fact that this was the first performance, otherwise known to the orchestra as “de-facto dress rehearsal”, that’s not enough, not even in Mahler.