Dolora Zajick (mezzo-soprano)
Ladies of the London Symphony Chorus
New London Childrens Choir
London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Lorin Maazel
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: 23 June, 2002
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
Lorin Maazel’s London visits are invariably billed as occasions these days – though the prospect of Mahler is, in itself, hardly the draw it might have been when, back in the 1970s, Maazel directed a complete cycle with the Philharmonia Orchestra. By the time of his recordings with the Vienna Philharmonic in the 1980s, Mahler interpretation had reached the point where the performingtradition, stemming from Bruno Walter and Otto Klemperer respectively, of either Mahler the ultimate late-Romanticist or Mahler the nascent Modernist had mutated into one where Mahler was the composer you chose to demonstrate your conducting prowess.
All this by way of an explanation for Maazel’s approach to Mahler – in essence a compendium of conducting technique with interpretation of little account. In terms of control ’from the front’ it was undeniably impressive – though the streamlined sonorities and chromium-plated timbres that resulted seemed to be a throwback to the LSO of two decades ago. Some sour wind intonation in the closing ’Adagio’ was understandable coming near the end of a 104-minute traversal of Mahler’s most inclusive symphonic statement.
What proved the biggest stumbling block was Maazel’s phrasing and building of musical paragraphs, in the outer movements especially, that were not merely contrived but inimical to musical flow and with an absence of spontaneity crucial in this Mahler symphony, a hymn to nature and divine love. The foursquare, sectional feel of the lengthy opening movement – its wealth of incident stage-managed to a degree – and the affected, lachrymose quality that overtook the slow finale hardly pointed to deep or sincere interpretative commitment.
The inner movements were generally more engaging, though Maazel turned the airy coda of the ’Menuetto’ into pure kitsch, and the posthorn-led trio sections of the following ’Comodo’ were not so much unhurried as unmotivated. Dolora Zajick was warm-toned if not especially imaginative in the Nietzsche setting of thefourth movement – a lack of a true pianissimo was also evident elsewhere – while the combined children’s and women’s voices in the “Wunderhorn” setting rather weighted down what should be a naïve, though not simplistic, interlude to offset the profundity either side.
Applause was enthusiastic but curiously short-lived, as though the audience was reacting to the occasion rather than the music itself.