Parsifal – Prelude to Act One
Three Pieces for Orchestra, Op.6
Das klagende Lied [Complete original version]
Marisol Montalvo (soprano)
Hedwig Fassbender (mezzo-soprano)
Michael Hendrick (tenor)
Anthony Michaels-Moore (baritone)
David Christopher Ragusa (alto)
London Philharmonic Choir [solo parts taken by members of the Glyndebourne Chorus]
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: 19 September, 2007
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
The London Philharmonic’s new season got off to an ambitious start that bodes well for the planning instincts of new Principal Conductor Vladimir Jurowski. Wagner’s opera-preludes – as with overtures in general – do not enjoy the concert profile they once did, and it was good to hear that to “Parsifal” played with evident attention to its gently cumulative momentum and fastidious timbral interplay. A substantial item in its own right is sometimes rounded off with the closing bars from Act One, but Jurowski took a more extended route to tonal closure by appending the final pages (minus chorus!) of the whole work; not an unreasonable option, especially when so limpidly rendered, though it does risk pre-empting the mounting sense of expectancy that the Prelude itself has been at pains to build up.
Wagner at his most contemplative is no mean foil for Berg at his most intensely wrought, and the latter’s Three Orchestral Pieces set up a distinctive contrast. Music that was once interpreted either to the point of hysteria or as a real-time analysis in textural complexity can now be played for what it more nearly is: a sequence reckless in its ambition yet impressive in its attainment. Under Jurowski, the ‘Präludium’ moved purposefully to its apex from out of and back to a fugitive calm, while ‘Reigen’ had an expressive sweep – in concept at least – not so far removed from Ravel’s La valse, though the spectral closing pages were a little matter of fact. Its constituent sections vividly delineated, ‘Marsch’ evinced angst without overkill – progressing to a powerful, undeniably Mahlerian climax that is less remarkable than the way to it and the engrossing ‘fall out’ in its wake. Only the finer subtleties were missing in a performance that had the measure of one of the more unlikely additions to the modern repertoire.
Mahler’s “Das klagende Lied” is also a work belatedly to have found favour, though this early cantata is never likely to match the symphonies in terms of airings. This account was of note in enabling London audiences to hear what Mahler conceived in 1878-80, without those changes – often extensive – that he made to the second and third parts during the 1890s after having jettisoned the opening ‘Waldmärchen’. Longest and formally the most diffuse it may be, it contains some of the composer’s most immediate invention as well as dramatically grounding what follows to a degree the succeeding parts fail to achieve on their own. Orchestrally, too, the ‘original version’ makes up for in individuality what it lacks in finesse – and though the interchanges between solo vocalists and members of the chorus did not always carry, the more sharply-etched orchestration came over well in the refurbished acoustic – mellower and warmer, if still lacking a certain depth of perspective – of the Royal Festival Hall.
Jurowski’s performance was a convincing one – for all that his incisive tempos sold short the more introspective passages. He rather overdid contrasts between action and reflection in the first half of ‘Waldmärchen’, though the depiction of the younger brother’s murder and its fateful aftermath were powerfully done – together encapsulating an emotional ‘truth’ such as Mahler only rarely equalled. Committed as were Marisol Montalvo (some effortlessly ‘floated’ phrases) and Michael Hendrick, it was their counterparts who seemed more closely attuned to the work’s abstract narrative – Hedwig Fassbender bringing a real compassion and Anthony Michaels-Moore an impassive nobility to the tragic tale as it unfolds. David Christopher Ragusa sang his awkwardly-lying part with no mean conviction; a needless theatrical conceit as Mahler came to see it, but right in terms of overall dramatic context.
The London Philharmonic Choir did not disappoint in a work that, for all its antecedents in Schumann and Wagner, has a starkness and intensity that is Mahler’s alone. Such is embodied in the offstage band heard to jarring effect at the close of ‘Der Spielmann’, but whose spatially-disorientating initial entries in ‘Hochzeitsstück’ were near-inaudible in the hall (though opening the relevant door of the auditorium might have helped). Yet as the brutal final chord shattered the becalmed final pages,one was left in little doubt as to Mahler’s achievement in this, his first work of consequence, nor of the level of conviction invested by Jurowski in this performance. He will no doubt be taking on the symphonies in due course, and seems more than equipped for the task ahead.