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Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, since 2007. All written content © 2014 by Paul Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Concert Review: Mystic Muddle Mars Mariinsky Mahler Eighth

Valery Gergiev was here.
Valery Gergiev is one of the bravest conductors working in serious music today. His gung-ho style works wonders with most symphonies, adding a fresh dose of energy to familar scores or making unfamiliar works suddenly pleasing to the ear. However, the maestro stumbled with Thursday night's performance of Mahler's Eighth Symphony at Carnegie Hall.

Dubbed the 'Symphony of a Thousand' because of the number of performers packed on the stage at its premiere, the Mahler Eighth is one of the composer's grandest visions and one of his most problematic. It was the first symphony to be sung all the way through. The texts are drawn from the Roman Catholic hymn 'Veni, creator spiritus' and the final scene of Part II of Goethe's Faust. They are not easy to understand or perform. The opening hymn serves as a first movement. The Faust setting divides into several smaller parts. However, it counts as one enormous movement, running nearly an hour in length.


To perform this two-part behemoth, Valery Gergiev brought the Mariinsky Orchestra, three seperate choral groups and eight solo singers from the Mariinsky Opera. But he neglected to bring a sense of command over this sprawling symphony. Mr. Gergiev's go-for-the-throat approach to music making works nine times out of ten. But last night, the rich details that make this symphony a unique, uplifting experience sounded blurred and out of focus.

The first movement was beset by faulty intonation by the Mariinsky horn players, with some ugly notes marring noble, inspiring calls. All eight singers were clumped on the side of the cramped Carnegie stage, wedged between the strings and the organ. The Russian soloists struggled to be heard, and had issues with the Latin and German texts. Backup tenor Avgot Amonov wrestled with his solo as Doctor Marianus. (He lost.) Better work was delivered by bass Evgeny Nikitin (the Pater Profundus) and leading soprano Anastasia Kalagina as the penitent Gretchen. But the second movement wandered until the final ten minutes, when the army of singers and musicians led a successful assault on the Chorus Mysticus.

The evening was plagued by balance issues, with the three choruses constantly drowning out the orchestra. Finally, the members of the Brooklyn Youth Chorus Academy are clearly too old for the part of a boys' chorus. They kept cupping their hands over their mouths while singing, perhaps in an effort to sound younger. One wished that Mephistopheles would slip in from Part I of Faust, and bequeath to them the gift of eternal youth. Barring that, he could at least bring a couple of boy trebles.
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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.