Lorin Maazel is undoubtedly a gifted musician and a superb technician on the podium. The orchestra played its collective socks off for him and responded to every flick of the maestros fingers and twitch of the baton and yet, for this listener at least, the music stubbornly failed to come alive. To be sure, the details of the music were well attended to, instrumental colourings were vivid and solo playing immaculate, and yet the whole remained solidly earthbound one or two moments apart.
The basic pulse of the first movement was, frankly, too slow. The marking is Andante comodo, which suggests some sense of forward movement. Alas, too often the music felt weighed down as if unwilling or unable to move on. Phrases did not always lead naturally on to the next. Climaxes were powerful, although the tone of full brass was often quite coarse. Maazel lingered lovingly perhaps too much so in the gentler, more reflective passages, and the woodwind soloists, an especially oily and sinister bass clarinet, were superb.
The second movement needs a lighter touch than it received in Maazels hands. Once again, a slightly more flowing tempo wouldnt have come amiss. The weight of the full string tone was impressive but the whole effect was too heavy. There should be a rather cheeky character to this music to provide contrast with the more serious arguments of the surrounding movements.
The savagery of the third movement came off best in this performance, with Maazels heavy approach paying off and reminding us, more than once, of how influenced Shostakovich was by Mahlers orchestration. The main tempo was, again, rather steadier than usual, but Maazel whipped up a storm in the final presto with breathtaking results.
The strings at the start of the final, regretful Adagio were affecting, and there was a real sense of heartache and regret as there should be in this painfully sad music. But there was little sense of building towards climaxes they suddenly happened. In the final pages, however, Maazel and his players were impressive and that strange, otherworldly final page for strings alone was disquieting rather than comforting.
Overall, I felt that this was a presentation rather than an interpretation of the symphony. Inner parts were displayed clearly, tricky passages neatly turned, but the whole performance felt strangely uninvolving in a way which is difficult to describe but which is a curious feature of Lorin Maazels conducting.
- Lorin Maazel conducts the LSO in Mahlers Third Symphony on Sunday, 23 June, at 7.30
- Box Office: 020 7638 8891 www.barbican.org.uk