Home | Reviews | Articles | Festivals | Competitions | Other | Contact Us

"Gergiev's Mahler"

Symphony No 6 [LSO0661; promo CD from LSO Live]

It has been suggested that Musical Pointers, with fewer regular reviewers than we'd like, has become something of a "blog". I do not take the notion amiss, and now into my eighties, I am easily tempted towards reminiscences of some 'good old days", and after a new editor (a Mahler enthusiast !) took over Seen & Heard, I suggested a fortnightly column to cover all our musical involvments...

Musical Pointers was launched before blogs existed, amongst its aims to encourage lateral thinking and ideas that might engender practical results, rather than trying to be critically learned and comprehensive on all the varieties of musics covered.

This disc has been rushed out (in a slip case without booklt) perhaps in response to the heavily divided response to the concert series at The Barbican, with brickbats outnumbering plaudits. People feel very strongly about Mahler, without necessarily having studied the scores.

I have a vivid memory of going to listen to a transmission of Mahler 6 when performances of the nine were still rare, exceptional events (Cooke's completion of No. 10 was to be premièred at the Proms in August 1964).

I had probably not had an opportunity before to "collect" a performance of No. 6 in London. A few of us were at Broadcasting House in the listening studio, when the producer came in to enquire in what order the inner movements should be broadcast? No one there was sure; so I phoned home and my wife confirmed from Dika Newlin's book [Bruckner Mahler Schoenberg, King's Crown Press 1947] that the Scherzo was "the third movement but originally the second", with which the BBC duly complied... (That issue still rumbles, q.v. "Gergiev opted for, in my view, the softer option of placing the andante and not the manic scherzo second" [Edward Seckerson, The Independent].

I have enjoyed this disc; I did wonder though whether the recording was compressed dynamically, which I prefer not to happen? The first movement was almost jaunty, and there was until towards the end little feeling of menace and doom.

A fellow regular concert-goer told me that LSO members, well aware of the negative reviews, asked why should they worry,with the concerts achieving sold-out houses and standing ovations... (His only regret was that some parts of the symphonies were not fully rehearsed by Gergiev, who went for high-wire risk and spontaneity, which would be impossible for orchestra less virtuosic than the present LSO, and less attuned to his fluttering way of conducting. It seems to be part of a marketing strategy which has begun to pay off in several of the London venues.

I hope that the booklet in preparation* for the final release will include a statement by Gergiev himself about his credo for this controversial symphony.

Peter Grahame Woolf

* I've been told that you can get a pdf file of the booklet by emailing Gavin Bayliss of LSO Live.

Some recent reviews of Gergiev's Mahler:

- - Gergiev is always unpredictable, so this flaccid, non-committal performance was a complete surprise

"Gergiev’s Mahler" is exactly that – Gergiev’s Mahler, highly idiosyncratic and unorthodox - - Mahler´s 1st Symphony stressed volume above subtlety - - exciting on a visceral, rollicking level. The audience was ecstatic, wildly applauding

- - a refusal to commit to the equivocality - - uncertainty and ambiguity, so standard now in almost any Mahler performance, I'm not sure that what we heard wasn't simply idealistically naïve.

- - playing at the very limit of their technique in all sections - - little repose anywhere and such as there was came from placing the Andante second - - rushed off again, more than complying to Mahler’s direction Wuchtig (Powerful) and via two (only) dull wooden thuds as the composer apparently wanted, arrived at the A minor chord and the tailing off of the music at the end.