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Mahler, Mendelssohn & Rasch

Mendelssohn Symphony 5
Mahler Totenfier
Torsten Rasch My Heart is on Fire (UK premiere)

The London Philharmonic Orchestra/Vladimir Jurowski
René Pape: amplified bass | Katharina Thalbach: narrator

Sunday 31 May 2009
Royal Festival Hall, London

Following the disastrous time and money wasting with Vladimir Martynov*, some of us came to Royal Festival Hall last night expecting a short novelty to go with Mendelssohn and Mahler. Alas, the piece by Dresden born Torsten Rasch, unknown in London, was scheduled to last 68 minutes - for those who lasted the course.

It proved to be another worrying import by one of the Russians who have been accused of making a bid to take over London's concert life. We were asssured that My Heart is on Fire would be a "bewitchingly beautiful" mesmerising development of the late Mahler's musical language, conceived as a classical song cycle, with poetry by the lead singer of rock band Rammstein which, in the event, was hurled at us by the distinguished bass Rene Pape (amplified !) and a grotesque actor-narrator.

The orchestra was enormous, the costs likewise, the justification for imposing upon us this mish-mash of overblown Korngoldish filmic music nil. Check elsewhere for sympathetic responses.

The forces engaged for Mr Rasch provided an opportunity to air Mahler's first orchestral work Totenfier, which was in due course transmuted into the first movement of his second symphony; better we'd had a whole Mahler symphony (one of the shorter ones...) to go with Mendelssohn's second mature symphony, published only posthumously as No 5. Its neglect is probably because of the religious connections, with quotes from the Dresden Amen (also used by Wagner in Parsifal) and Luther's ein' feste Burg. It proved worth far more than an occasional airing determined by the calendar (this is his birth bicentenary year) and Jurowski's account suggested that it ought to be a regular concert presence.

There are so many fine composers who get no more than an occasional hearing of a single work in an obscure London venue (e.g. Roberto Rusconi at the Notting Hill Mayfest this month) that one despairs of how the Capital's concerts are organised, and particularly that there are now so few serious orchestral concerts at the Royal Festival Hall (q.v. this month's schedule).

Peter Grahame Woolf

* - - Martynov’s fan club (of which the LPO’s maestro, Vladimir Jurowski, seems to be founder, chairman and sole member - - " Edward Seckerson; "Mr. Martynov’s stupefying opera - - banal and pretentious" NY Times

See also

Hilary Finch in The Times: - - a grotesque and self-indulgent caricature - - a bad case of misjudgment in those who committed such huge resources to the project.

Tim Ashley in The Guardian: Questions have been asked about Vladimir Jurowski's judgment in championing of Vladimir Martynov's opera Vita Nuova. The point [of Rasch's My Heart is on Fire] is that heavy metal and expressionism are preoccupied with subjectivism, psychological extremism, and, of course, plenty of decibels - - it's all hard to like.