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William Zucker
# Posted: 27 Jun 2009 06:44

A most underwhelming, performance, typical of Loren Maazel's offerings. I must confess that I never really much liked any of his work.

I found the tempos to be generally good, and in most cases would go along with them, but somehow the performance did not draw me in; first time it ever happened for me with this particular work that I remained relatively uninvolved in a performance of this work.

I understand that his first performance(s) in this cycle were much work, and the one I heard - the Friday performance - showed a distinct improvement. If such be the case, what can one say? Will the final Saturday performance be better still?

At times, there were tendencies to elongate phrases, especailly at broadenings and at pauses, far more than necessary. The moment in the first movement where occurs that caesura over the word "Accende," to which I've referred before, on this occasion was inexpertly handled, I felt. The music came to a stop with a bump, very abruptly, and after a relatively long pause, much longer than usual, it picked up again.

In the second movement, the motive I referred previously to as a very brief "ditty," was taken too slowly on the first occasion, and much too quickly on the second. The whole, in general, gave an impression of moving along in a very detached, uninvolved manner, with very little inflection of phrases.

The vocal contributions were better. As on the last occasion, the children's choir had a beautiful rounded tone, happily free of any stridency normally associated with such. The chorus at times sounded just a bit too heavy in the sense that important orchestral detail was being obscured. (One way some of this was solved was to have certain passages written for solo violin [concert master] being played by a group of violins, to boost their sound.) Of the soloists, I particularly liked the baritone who sang the part of Doctor Marianus. Gretchen did not come across ideally, as her pitch at certain times was less assured. But one feature I noted which I took extreme pleasure in was the fact that she sang the ossia in her last solo - the point in the second movement where the second theme from the first movement makes a belated reappearance. There is a high B Flat held as a whole note in her part, with an alternative of slurring from D up a minor sixth to that B Flat, a version that is motically very relevant and should be adopted although very rarely is. I heard it done this way for the first time ever, and must say, it is better than the version we customarily hear! - at least in my own opinion.

At the very outset, but not later, the organ was very overpowering, producing a muddy texture through use of those 32 ft. stops. Fortunately, this did not continue throughout the work.

I described that piccolo solo leading up to to the Chorus Mysticus as the most beautiul ever written for the instrument. That normally is true, but it did not sound at all beautiful on this occasion, but rather sounded as a shrill whistle, which I'm certain is not what was intended by Mahler.

The orchestra, incidentally, really did sound beutiful at the beginning of the second section of the second movement, which I've specified in a previous essay on the work relatinhg to Eschenbach's performance with the Phila. Orchestra.

All in all, there have been lots of better performances of this work which deserves a lot better than it received here.

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