LSO/Gergiev – Richard Strauss’s Metamorphosen & Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony

Metamorphosen – Study for 23 solo strings
Symphony No.2 (Resurrection)

Elena Mosuc (soprano)
Zlata Bulycheva (mezzo-soprano)

London Symphony Chorus

London Symphony Orchestra
Valery Gergiev

Reviewed by: Kevin Rogers

Reviewed: 20 April, 2008
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Valery Gergiev. Photograph: Jennifer TaylorSymphonies one to seven of “Gergiev’s Mahler” (as it is branded) are now done, which leaves numbers eight to ten (in this case ‘just’ the opening Adagio) still to go. It is disappointing that one or other of the Performing Versions of No.10 is not being used or that “Das Lied von der Erde”, which Mahler designated a symphony, is not being performed.

Richard Strauss’s Metamorphosen expresses in music the composer’s heartache at what he saw as the destruction of German civilisation through the bombing of theatres during World War Two. Permeating Metamorphosen is the mournful theme from the funeral march of Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ Symphony, and on this occasion it seemed more apparent than ever. Whilst Valery Gergiev struggles greatly emoting with this sort of music (he is far too brash), the performance was very affecting, with the LSO’s soloists producing the requisite range of dynamics and colour. What a pity that at the very end, with the very quiet notes still being sustained and with Gergiev’s hands in the air, a barbarian began applauding enthusiastically, prompting others to follow. Members of the orchestra looked dumbfounded.

Gustav Mahler (1860-1911)The previous instalments of “Gergiev’s Mahler” have been very disappointing. A lack of rehearsal was suggested at this concert (Gergiev has just returned from the Metropolitan Opera conducting Prokofiev’s “The Gambler”), but the performance itself was very good, though it fell short of what Mahler, speaking in 1900, thought it could provoke: “I will probably almost never attain such heights or plumb such depths, just as Ulysses was able to descend only once during his earthly life into Tartarus. Only once or twice in a lifetime is it possible to create works on themes so stupendous: Beethoven in his Ninth, Goethe in ‘Faust’, Dante in the ‘Divina Commedia’. Without putting myself even remotely in the same class as these greatest of all, I am often astonished even now by what I accomplished in that summer in Steinbach!” A performance of ‘Resurrection’ Symphony may reach such heights, but that is rare, and was not attained here, although it was uplifting.

In the first of two performances, Gergiev launched into the massive opening movement of the ‘Resurrection’ and maintained thrust and vehemence throughout its course. He managed the calm moments without over-reaction (even though his head was buried in the score) whilst making the movement’s central climax pounding. Some vulgar brass characterisation (Gergiev and too-loud brass is regrettably common) and bombast found its best expression in the outer movements. The second movement Ländler needed to relax more – it is a dance – the pulse that runs through it did not waver too much, though the ‘St Anthony and the Fishes’ third movement did sway, going where the second movement ought to have gone.

Beautiful and deep-toned Zlata Bulycheva may be, capturing the meaning of the words very well, but she was unintelligible in ‘Urlicht’. Not so Elena Mosuc, who gave good support during the finale, its great march, marked Maestoso, had the drive and inner magnificence one hopes for, even if a little rushed. Well co-ordinated off-stage bands were very fine and the London Symphony Chorus, singing without scores, gave powerful voice to Klopstock’s defiant words.

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