Mahler’s Third, Concertgebouw

After 21 years, the Los Angeles Philharmonic returned to Amsterdam.
Gustavo Dudamel made the gutsy choice to perform Mahler’s
Symphony No. 3. Adding a mythological dimension to the
piece, Mahler conducted it at the Concertgebouw in 1903, so it takes some
cojones to perform it here. Tonight’s performance grew into
a success: while the second half of the performance impressed, the first
part suffered from balancing issues and at times extremely loud play. As
they slowly mastered the acoustics of the Great Hall, it was intriguing to
witness Dudamel maneuver his orchestra’s greatly improving play over
the performance.

The longest symphony in the Romantic repertoire, Mahler’s Third
Symphony consists of six movements. Lasting over thirty minutes, the first
movement Kraftig. Entschieden is almost a symphony in its
own right. As Dudamel opened, immediately the volume hurt the ears.
Throughout the first movement, the maestro made work of lowering the
intensity of his sections.

The acoustics at the Concertgebouw are infamously tricky. Even
performers from the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra prefer the Musikverein in
Vienna, because there they can hear each other, at the Concertgebouw less
so. It is up to the Maestro to balance the orchestra. Experienced
conductors know how to appropriate these effects and thereby enhance the
orchestra’s sound. Dudamel is one of these, though tonight it took the
Venezuelan conductor quite some time before his orchestra found the

Within the first movement, Dudamel reduced the piercingly shrill brass,
bringing out a golden glow resonating from the trombones (with RCO’s
Jörgen van Rijen as guest soloist). After some adjustment, from the
strings a throbbing resonance emerged that carried a lot energy. Off-stage,
snare drums marched on in the lobby. As the conductor dealt with balancing
issues, the first movement experienced fragmented momentum, resulting in a
repetitive moments. It took a while for Dudamel to reach his finesse.

Then Dudamel moved through the second and third movements Tempo di
and Commodo. Scherzando. Bending and skipping, he
led LA Phil through Mahler’s rapidly changing tempi. Now less
fragmented, he generated exciting momentum from his sections, though the
continuing loud volume held you back from being swept off your feet. A
delicate oboe solo offered a brief respite from the intensity, as did the
subtly played soft colors from the trumpetist. Based on the
musicians’ solo passages, there was no question about their

Finally everything came together in the fourth movement. Through the
tranquil play, Dudamel created a haunting atmosphere. Reaching far into the
audience, mezzo-soprano Tamara Mumford entranced with her darkened colours,
adding a mysterious dimension. With fluid phrasing and clear diction, she
brought out Zarathustra’s Mitternachtslied from
Nietzsche. Dudamel deftly incorporated Mumford’s rich vibrato, as the
impressive oboist returned as an exotic contrast and the concertmaster made
his violin sing with great elegance.

For the fifth movement the Dutch choirs came into action with
“Armer Kinder Bettlerlied” from Des Knaben Wunderhorn.
‘Bimm bamm bimm bamm’, Dudamel entwined the voices with his
orchestra, which led to much cheer and joy. The trombones offered gentle
resonance with their lower registers. Mumford joined in, disarming with
‘Ach komm und erbarme dich’.

In this uplifting atmosphere and with a thin, but taut tension, Dudamel
could start the heavenly ascent in the final movement. After the steady
guidance over the preceding segments, Dudamel and the orchestra finally
clicked with the acoustics. To see the LA Phil adapt was truly a

Langsam—Ruhevoll—Empfunden , the Venezuelan
thickened the strings’ suspense with a slow-burning momentum that
kept the listener hooked. Brightness and brilliance glowed from the L.A.
Phil. Gone was the painfully high volume. After a long and difficult
journey, Dudamel had displayed his technical skills, as his orchestra
adapted to its new environment. Now with full effect in Mahler’s
heavenly finale, they had disarmed and moved the audience, who reacted in
turn with a rapturous applause.

David Pinedo

image_description=Gustavo Dudamel [Photo by Nohely Oliveros]
product_title=Mahler’s Third, Concertgebouw
product_by=A review by David Pinedo
product_id=Above: Gustavo Dudamel [Photo by Nohely Oliveros]