International Mahler Orchestra/Krämer Ulf Wallin – Dvořák, Hartmann & Mahler

Serenade for Strings in E, Op. 22
Concerto funebre for Violin and Strings
Mahler, arr. Gamzou
Serenade-Nachtmusik [Nachtmusik II of Symphony No.7, arranged for oboe, clarinet, horn, harp and strings; World premiere]

Ulf Wallin (violin)

International Mahler Orchestra
Hannes Krämer

Reviewed by: Kevin Rogers

Reviewed: 15 April, 2008
Venue: St John's, Smith Square, London

The International Mahler Orchestra, now in its third year, brings together talented young musicians from a dozen countries with musicians from major European orchestras. A somewhat reduced orchestra, though, was on display for this concert that featured the premiere of Yoel Gamzou’s (the orchestra’s Music Director) arrangement of ‘Nachtmusik II’ (4th movement) from Mahler’s Seventh Symphony. Gamzou is currently working on a new performing edition of the Tenth Symphony.

Mahler scored ‘Nachtmusik II’ (from Symphony No.7) for reduced instrumentation but including a mandolin and guitar to give it a truly magical serenade character. In this arrangement, although the harp-playing was admirable, it could not imitate the mandolin and guitar. The music-making also struggled to develop the contrasts between the visceral and amiable passages and the end was a stressful occasion. On this hearing a degree of tweaking is needed for what anyway seems like an indulgent exercise.

Dvořák’s gorgeous String Serenade opened the concert, the beginning setting a tranquil pace and the second subject the gentle dance it ought to be. But Hannes Krämer’s direction needed more coherence: his letting the orchestra relax resulted the music becoming muddled; in addition, the very quiet playing that is occasionally called for was absent. By contrast, like all good chamber-music-making, the passing of lines in the scherzo and finale worked in building tension, lyricism brought to bear by the suppleness of the strings.

Karl Amadeus HartmannKarl Amadeus Hartmann remained in Germany during the Nazi regime, though he withdrew all his works and forbid their playing during the war years. Concerto funebre dates from 1939 (revised 1959 and originally titled Musik der Trauer) is a response to the outbreak of war and his own pessimism about life in Germany. The orchestral playing lacked coherence to begin with but rapidly improved with the help of soloist Ulf Wallin, who managed to produce tunefulness from what appears to be rather stark writing. As a result, the work’s impact really stood out and the desperation it seeks to impart made a lasting impression. More of Hartmann’s music needs to be heard.

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