Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester

Des Knaben Wunderhorn [three selections, two orchestrated Luciano Berio]
Eine alpensinfonie, Op.64

Simon Keenlyside (baritone)

Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester
Franz Welser-Möst

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 15 March, 2005
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Anyone not an habitué of Cleveland but who caught the city’s Orchestra on tour last summer (maybe at Lucerne or the Edinburgh Festival) will know of its refinement, discretion and chamber music integration under Music Director Franz Welser-Möst. Such welcome hallmarks were evident in this concert with the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra – founded in 1986 by Claudio Abbado and formed by European musicians up to age 26 – in which Welser-Möst once again drew playing that was scrupulous and deeply considered.

Strangely enough, the GMYO offered a similar programme to the National Youth Orchestra (in April 2004). The NYO managed an overture (the GMYO might have looked at Boris Blacher’s Concertante Musik, written for George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra) and, similarly, it was the quality of the playing that is the abiding memory of the GMYO’s appearance, the meticulous preparation and the finite balances. In the eight Mahler songs, Simon Keenlyside, seeming less than comfortable and, maybe, suffering a cold, although generous of phrase was vocally inconsistent. And however flawless and subtle the orchestral playing, there was a lack of emotional identity. The songs orchestrated by Luciano Berio proved the highlight – for their relative rarity (Mahler never got to score them) and for Berio’s imaginative and innate response.

Performances of Strauss’s An Alpine Symphony tend to average out at 49 minutes (Litton’s did with the NYO). There are exceptions either side of this, of course. Welser-Möst took 46. In some respects this a meaningless statistic, for there was never a sense of rush; that said, he did push through some episodes, presumably to emphasise that this is a symphony rather than a travelogue. And, certainly, while the pictorial climb and descent is secondary to the work’s spiritual connotations and Strauss’s invention (suggestions, in this performance, of Webernian economy and Stravinskian flourish in the ‘calm before the storm’), this rendition, remarkably assured and with much admirable musicianship, lacked for danger and rapture, and the summit-reaching climax was curiously short on panorama. But as ‘orchestral manoeuvres’ it was very impressive.

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