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Chabrier, Mahler & Beethoven

Chabrier Suite pastorale

Mahler Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Anne Sofie von Otter)

Beethoven Symphony No 6.
Chamber Orchestra of Europe/Philippe Jordan QEH London, 7 January 2006


It continues to be good to experience the orchestral repertoire in the more intimate Queen Elizabeth Hall (whilst RFH is being reconstructed and, hopefully, its acoustic transformed). The Pastoral symphony was given a sound, if not greatly iluminating, performance. Perhaps there comes a time when one has heard one's favourites just too often? The first movement went well, but the muted strings in the second receded so that the horns (who haven't a lot to say, but do so repeatedly, and weren't always trouble free) obtruded. The peasants dance and storm made one wish for the less cushioned sonorities of a Norrington and period instruments; the Thanksgiving was not quite so heart-warming as it can be.


Anne Sofie von Otter, in suggestively masculine attire, traversed the young man's introspective miseries dutifully, but not quite reaching the heart in this lovely cycle, a favourite since being captivated by the 78s of Eugenia Zareska (1946)* and, even more, by Rehkemper//Horenstein introducing me to the poignant Kindertotenlieder - wonderful to discover from the ever-helpful Google that these are reissued together on SYMPOSIUM 1337 MAHLER: Early lieder recordings. Von Otter's voice was (as I've noted before) a little small to project the lad's intense adolescent emotions with live orchestra, though a colleague sat closer found her a little too loud if anything, a reminder that pairs of ears around a hall hear music differently.


Which leaves Chabrier, the glory of this concert! His Suite pastorale (his own orchestration of four of the piano collection Dix pièces pittoresques) was a marvellous way to begin this programme and the beginning of the year's orchestral concert going, its subtleties shaped with loving care and attention to detail by Philippe Jordan. Tiny pp tinkling on the triangle, followed by luscious woodwind interweaving in the Idyll, perhaps the best of the all too few pieces comprising the orchestral suite. Poulenc thought the Dix pièces ' as important for French music as Debussy's Preludes' and I emphatically endorse his high regard for one of my favourite composers. Chabrier was not the most organised of composers, and his legacy is sadly limited, but all treasurable.


It is time for another Chabrier Festival (Roy Howat's at South Bank with Graham Sheffield in 1994 was revelatory) and to commission orchestrations of the other six pièces pittoresques? Might a start be made with composition students at the Royal Academy of Music, where Roy Howat has been teaching about Chabrier?

* Jascha Horenstein, a major Mahler interpreter of the 20th Century, made this famous recording of Kindertotenlieder with baritone Heinrich Rehkemper in 1928. For me the most important item here is the first appearance on CD of Eduard van Beinum's recording of Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, made in London in 1946 with Eugenia Zareska - - shows his affinity for the composer's music continuing the Mahler tradition started in Amsterdam by Willem Mengelberg. Symposium's transfers throughout are excellent. R.E.B. (August 2004)


See also A Celebration of Emmanuel Chabrier


© Peter Grahame Woolf