, September 2011
The performance of Mahler’s Fourth Symphony that was included in Valery Gergiev’s survey of the complete symphonies for LSO Live received my highest recommendation in Fanfare 33:6; the performance that comprises one-half of the program here is very similar. Gergiev’s tempos are unexaggerated, and his exploitation of inner-voice detail is exemplary. Ruhevall especially is warmly fluid and engaging, right up to the climactic moment of the arrival at the gates of heaven.
Camilla Tilling, soloist in Benjamin Zander’s splendid Telarc recording of the Fourth, sounds properly youthful and wide-eyed, her expression miming the awestruck child as she recounts the delights on offer. Gergiev accompanies at an easy gait, allowing Tilling ample time in which to fully exploit the naiveté of the song. Altogether, this is a charming and sensitive finale that crowns a performance notable for charm and sensitivity.
The Fifth Symphony opens with a precise, weighty, and deliberate fanfare; the funeral march has a strong pulse, the melancholy leavened with resignation. The “suddenly faster” section of this first movement is urgent but not distractingly impulsive; control is the byword here. Another notable aspect of the performance is the near-perfect blend of orchestral voices, remarkable for an ensemble that meets for such a short time.
The angry confusion at the heart of the second movement is a marked contrast to the austerity of the march in the first. The main theme, however, possesses a sadly sweet kind of melancholy colored by nostalgia, later reinforced by the moody cello cantilena. The genial, even jaunty major-mode march lightens the mood effectively; the chorale that seems to offer a view of the hereafter is somewhat less than ecstatic but effective within Gergiev’s low-key approach. There is sweep to the jolly Scherzo, but it’s not quite the robust contrast to the preceding first part of the symphony that can so effectively dispel the gloom; Rattle, in the DVD of his inaugural concert in Berlin (reviewed in Fanfare 27:1), provides just such a contrast. The whimsical Trios are sprightly and add a sweetly nostalgic note.
The strings bring ardor and lush, full-bodied tone to the Adagietto. Gergiev’s tempos never drag, but he allows the poignant themes to register their full effect. The finale opens attacca with the sudden horn tones. As with the Scherzo, there is plenty of energy here, though the music isn’t quite as infectious as it should be. Gergiev certainly adopts a lively tempo; the music just doesn’t sound as spontaneous as, for another example, Abbado in Lucerne, whose use of rubato adds more variety and poignancy; Gergiev, infectious though it may be, is almost pure momentum.
The sound production, especially in DTS 5.1 surround, is spacious and detailed within an expansive soundstage. An unfortunate byproduct of the accuracy of the surround-sound program is the (luckily) occasional coughs and other extraneous noises from the audience, which tend to be quite loud and multidirectional! Gergiev’s own vocal contributions are also occasionally audible.
Since this is a DVD, observations concerning the visual aspect might interest prospective purchasers. Valery Gergiev is a refreshingly disheveled presence on the podium, the antithesis of the stiff frock-coated maestro, with his hair awry and beads of sweat flecking his stylish black collarless jacket. Conducting without a baton, his hands are constantly in motion, especially the right, which flutters about like a small bird. In this, he is the farthest thing imaginable from that other famous conductor sans baton, the dour and expressionless Pierre Boulez. The visual production is notable for panning shots of the strikingly beautiful interior of the Royal Festival Hall, with its empurpled ceiling and stage background bathed in blue light. The rest of the production is a skillful blend of solo and section views, accompanied by the animated presence of Maestro Gergiev.
Gergiev’s Mahler has been an acquired taste for me, but this video captures two excellent performances of highly contrasted works, recorded during the sesquicentennial of Mahler’s birth. Highly recommended.