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William Zucker
# Posted: 11 May 2009 05:55

This performance, by Barenboim, was a big disappoimntment to me. But before I get to that, let me comment on the first part of the program, which featured the Ruckert sons, as presented by Thomas Quasthoff.

I have to comment that although I prefer female voices in many of these settings, I have come to the realization that Quasthoff is the only male singer who can present these songs to me in a way whereby I do not miss the female voice, and consequently would love to hear him in the baritone version of Das Lied.

Mr, Quasthoff held the audience spellbound with his delivery, and the last song, Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen, achieved a stasis that was almost worth the whole afternoon. Too bad there had to be so many clods hacking away with their coughing, but that is nothing new.

The symphony I felt was pulled out of shape in many places, with exaggerated effects of rubatos and in dynamics even where not called for.
In every movement such was experienced, and besides, the very difficult problems of correct balances between strings and brass in this particular work were simply not addressed; this became for me a very serious problem in the first two movements in particular, although the Scherzo and Rondo Finale were not necessarily immune from it either. Some of the tempo fluctuations seemed to be indulged in for their own sake, and these sounded very artificial and unconvincing.

This is a very difficult symphony to put across convincingly, and over the years, I have heard only two performances live that were altogether satisfactory in my own view, both in Carnegie Hall: that by Barbirolli and the Houston Symphony back in 1965, and more recently, along with other members of the Mahler Society, that by Ashkenazy and the Czech Philharmonic.

The diversity of the movements, along with the overall scenario, makes the conductor's task extremely difficult. I am further handicapped by the fact that I hear the work in my own unique manner, with the movements grouped entirely differently from the way Mahler had conceived it. I cannot escape this - it is how I hear the work, and accordingly might be unfairly criticizing or even praising a conductor for a reading that might be something Mahler had not actually conceived, although I will avow that we all hear works of this nature in our own unique way, and should not be faulted if our own honest perception happens to be different from that of the composer's, as is very much the case with me in this particular work.

P Stumpf
# Posted: 13 May 2009 04:06

I'm neither a musician nor a musicologist, but to my ears, the performance of the Fifth on Sunday was superlative; Mr. Barenboim redeemed himself for the unsatisfactory First on Wednesday. All movements seemed well paced to me (even a somewhat spritely Adagietto, clocking in at about 8 minutes), and all sections of the orchestra played with verve and excitement.

As for the Ruckert Lieder, I agree with Bill for the most part. The first song did not seem to be quite within Mr. Quasthoff's comfort range, but the rest were very finely done. The audience would have done better to hold their applause for more than 2 seconds, as a spell had been cast with the Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen.

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