Prom 32: Brahms and Mahler

At any rate, Christian Teztlaff gave a fine account of the former,
though he was not always matched by Edward Gardner’s conducting, which
was mostly unobjectionable — more than can be said for many examples
— but not especially rich in insight. The BBC Symphony Orchestra was
generally on good, if not infallible, form, its first movement contribution
more lyrical than stentorian. (A mobile telephone provided unwanted
interruption during the first exposition.) Teztlaff’s solo performance
was intensely committed, fiercely dramatic, and unwavering in intonation, the
cadenza (Joachim’s) providing both intimacy and direction. The opening of
the ensuing coda proved splendidly autumnal, though its conclusion was arguably
rushed by Gardner. Unwelcome applause intervened prior to a slow movement in
which Tetzlaff generally acted as first among serenade-like equals, the spirit
of Mozart undeniably present. Though the opening woodwind solos, especially
Richard Simpson’s oboe, were well taken, there was a sense that they
might have sung still more freely had Gardner moulded them less. That is a
minor criticism, however, for Tetzlaff’s sweet-toned rendition ensured
that the heart strings would be tugged where necessary, without the slightest
hint of undue manipulation. Gardner, to his credit, held the audience at bay
during the brief pause before the finale. Rhythms were well pointed here,
though there were times when the orchestra felt a little driven.
Tetzlaff’s musicianship and virtuosity were never in doubt; it would be
good to hear him in this concerto with a more experienced Brahmsian, such as
Bernard Haitink, Kurt Masur, or Sir Colin Davis. If anything even better was
his poised, thoughtful, richly expressive encore account of the Gavotte en
from Bach’s E major Partita. Not for the first time, the
smallest of forces seemed to project better than a typical symphony orchestra
in the problematic acoustic of the Royal Albert Hall.

Gardner fashioned a performance of Das klagende Lied that was more
‘operatic’ than benefits the music. Or, to put it another way, it
concentrated on highlighting of certain textual ‘incident’ and
artificially whipped-up excitement in a stop-and-start way that recalled Sir
Georg Solti (though I am not sure whether Solti conducted this particular
work). At least, though, we could hear vibrato-laden strings, a relief after
the horror tales of Sir Roger Norrington’s recent Ninth Symphony. The
orchestral introduction to ‘Waldm‰rchen’ was somewhat hesitant at
first, and then, as if to compensate, was fiercely driven. It eventually
settled, but the movement as a whole did not. The second stanza, though well
presented vocally and orchestrally, simply dragged, Gardner seemingly finding
it impossible to alight upon a just tempo. Uncertain brass slightly marred the
brothers’ entry into the forest, though tenor Stuart Skelton gave a good
sense of Mahler as balladeer. When, during the final two stanzas,
Mahler’s Wagnerian inheritance — Gardner seemed previously to have
done his utmost to make the composer sound closer to Verdi! — inevitably
came to the fore, whether through harmony, instrumentation, and vocal line, it
was almost a sense of too little, too late. Anna Larsson, a late substitution
for Ekaterina Gubanova, nevertheless proved a wonderfully rich mezzo

Intimations of the First and Second Symphonies in the introduction to
‘Der Spielmann’ came across clearly — how could they not?
— but, in Gardner’s hands, there was something unnecessarily
four-square to the phrasing. Christopher Purves, however, proved plaintive
indeed upon the words ‘Dort ist’s so lind und voll von Duft, als
ging ein Weinen durch die Luft!’, even though the pacing now had become
unduly distended. The first entry of the off-stage band sounded splendid in
itself, but Gardner struggled — and failed — to keep it together
with the ‘main’ orchestra. There were, happily, no such problems
later on. Tempi here and in the concluding ‘Hochzeitsst¸ck’ veered
towards the comatose, however, interspersed with ‘compensating’
rushed passages. What should sound wide-eyed in its staggering youthful
ambition and accomplishment tended merely to sprawl. (Applause again intervened
between the second and third movements.) Choral diction was very good
throughout, though it would have done no harm to have had a larger chorus.
Treble voices touched in their fragility, helping to prove once again that it
is this original version of Das klagende Lied that has the superior
claim to performance. I cannot begin to understand David Matthews’s
programme note claim that the revised two-part version is
‘incontrovertibly tighter and arguably more effective’. If the
effect were somewhat sprawling, that was the fault of Gardner’s
performance, not of the work itself, which is a much better piece than this
evening’s audience may have been led to believe.

Mark Berry

image_description=Gustav Mahler
product_title=Brahms — Violin Concerto in D major, op.77; Mahler — Das klagende Lied (original version)
product_by=Christian Tetzlaff (violin); Melanie Diener (soprano); Anna Larsson (mezzo-soprano); Stuart Skelton (tenor); Christopher Purves (baritone); Theodore Beeny, Augustus Bell, Timothy Fairbairn, Thomas Featherstonehaugh, Matthew Lloyd-Wilson, Oluwatimilehin Otudeko (trebles); BBC Singers (chorus master: Stephen Jackson); Edward Gardner (conductor). Royal Albert Hall, London, 7 August 2011.
product_id=Above: Gustav Mahler