The Gergiev show that has been tramping up and down the East Coast this month landed at the KC last night for a Mahler 8 with his Mariinsky Orchestra, the Choral Arts Society, the Children's Chorus of Washington, and others.
I love me some good Gergiev, and was totally game for wherever he was going with this. While the first part had some thrilling climaxes (and really, how can you get 300 professional musicians to play in coordination as loud as possible and not have some thrills) it didn't come together for me. Too often the textures were muddy and the momentum unfocused, with aimless stretches that felt like they were trying to balance predictability and survival with the music making. Having been in choruses during a few such massive operations, the together but middling sensation is familiar, but of course doesn't really create the conditions for an inspired reading. Gergiev likes to play it close to the edge, but the prospect of losing control of this most freight-trainish of movements may have inhibited even him.
The virtues of Gergiev and orchestra were much more evident in Part II--unabashed old-movie-score-pathos in the strings; an exciting ruddy brass sound that doesn't just dig deep, it excavates; and an unflagging attention to the drama and heart of the piece--like Bernstein after an all-night Stoli-fueled bender.
The vocal ensemble was pretty strong, with tenor August Amonov the standout in his passionately sung Part II solo work. The women brought some nice Slavic flavor (loved deep-voiced mezzo Zlata Bulycheva) but individually were a bit underpowered in relation to the orchestra, with the possible exception of
(UPDATE: Ok, I'm pretty sure I can't figure out the name of the soloist I'm trying to indicate here and I don't know the 8th well enough to figure it out, so...dark-haired one third from stage right, with a lot of material about 2/3rds of the way through Part II: you sounded good).
The choirs sounded tremendous. Any ensemble deserves a lot of points just for showing up and wrestling successfully with this thing, but there were moments where the vocal forces distinguished themselves, to be sure. The opening of the Chorus Mysticus was a model of controlled, finely blended piano singing, not an easy effect to achieve in such a large group, and the result was quite magical.
More reviews: Tim Smith
(who is having none of that)...
Haven't had a chance to write about it, but I had my first opportunity to see Eschenbach as NSO director last Friday, in the second installment of the the Mozart 34/Mahler 5 program that concluded his Fall run. While I haven't been terribly diligent about attending NSO shows the last few years, I think that's about to change...
The consolation Mozart was very nice (it was supposed to be an all-Mahler program)--I was especially struck by the orchestra's sensitivity to the precise articulation Eschenbach called for--though its a bit hard to keep one's mind on Mozart when you know you have Mahler in store. (Sorry.) There was the usual defensiveness in the program and the nice post-show talk Eschenbach participated in about doing the piece with the regular ol' orchestra with only modest reductions. Eschenbach had a funny story about a letter from Mozart to his father in the 1780s where he is all jazzed about seeing some freaky big orchestra, so take that HIP facscists. I mean, I don't REALLY know how bad the situation is--maybe Eschenbach went home to find some threatening note on his doorstep festooned with catgut--but all the HIP backlash backlash seems like a bit of a straw man these days. And PS, can you think of anything more tragic than the major symphonies of the world starting to up the quotient of Mozart and Haydn in their programs again?
But anyhow, the MAHLER. In my aforementioned limited experience, this really is the best thing I've heard the NSO do. The orchestra delivered a wonderfully vivid, transparent sound, complemented by very high caliber solo work. Eschenbach's Mahler is thoughtful and intimate. He devotes loving attention to the lyrical moments, drawing them out of the din with great clarity and poignancy. He also has a penchant for creating an effect whereby passages sound almost suspended in time, allowing one to discover and linger in Mahler's eclectic sound worlds.
One could get used to this...