Mathis der Maler Symphony
Also sprach Zarathustra
Dresden Staatskapelle of Saxony conducted by Ion Marin
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 26 January, 2002
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
What I wonder is a “21st-century artist”? According to his biography, Ion Marin is one. Millennial matters aside, was creativity re-defined on 1 January 2001 (note the year!)? Away from such stuff and nonsense, Romanian-born Marin is an urbanely capable conductor with plenty of time to fully develop his view of the music he interprets.
Staatskapelle Dresden’s rich-sounding and vibrant identity was on display, committed certainly albeit more efficient than inspired. Marin is an articulate musician who possesses a clear, undemonstrative technique, which didn’t always achieve unanimity of ensemble or avoid tentativeness.
In an operatic first half, the overture to Weber’s penultimate stage-work only became focused in its later stages. Marin favours warm, homogeneous sound, he can shape gracefully a lyrical phrase and is a thoughtful colourist – the velvet-toned ghost music exhibited timbral finesse while lacking eerie tension. In the symphony Hindemith fashioned from his opera, Marin was an emotionally lightweight if lucid guide to Hindemith’s contrapuntal and rhythmic guile. A liking for slow tempi convinced in the central movement, ’Entombment’, Marin’s response to sound’s internal resonance further evinced if not an ability to build an organic climax. His relative detachment, supervising inner workings, was out of sync with dramatic input: the finale was inappropriately rhetorical, the final ’Alleluia’ portentous.
This concert was to have been conducted by the late Giuseppe Sinopoli, the Orchestra’s Music Director, a heavyweight evening of Strauss – Zarathustra and Heldenleben. Oh for his analysis and psychology: this Zarathustra, played by the Dresdeners “for our friend,” was unfortunately one of the most sagging accounts I’ve ever heard. That it was leisurely didn’t matter; it was directionless. The (in)famous opening, now unfortunately associated with moon-landings, Kubrick and audiophile cravings, was understated. That’s in keeping with Strauss’s own view – he left a number of recordings of his music – but Marin didn’t penetrate the score’s Nietzsche-inspired philosophy, episodes limped from one to the next, ’Of Science’ distending to a standstill. Marin’s civility and a relish for Strauss’s cleverness only laid-bare the composer’s virtuosity and vacuous invention; even the State Orchestra’s creamy-rich sonorities, complete with its own organ, which over-dominated at times to suggest a church service, couldn’t rescue this lethargic traversal.
For an encore a rare outing for Weber’s Jubel Overture, complete with our National Anthem; all a bit corny but more exuberant than its sister overture; one wished the concert could start again.