Saturday, February 26, 2022

Berliner Philharmonie, Herbert-von-Karajan-Straße, Berlin

It’s amazing how often Mahler’s Second Symphony turns up these days, its novelty lost to over-exposure. Of course, it depends on the attraction of the performers as to whether one tunes-in or attends; more specifically, who it is that’s conducting. I mean no disrespect to Gustavo Dudamel when I say I was going to give this Berlin ‘Resurrection’ a miss, but the nearer it got to the broadcast the more I wanted to be there (albeit through the alchemy of the Internet); after all, given the current very disturbing situation in Ukraine, already allied to by the Berliners and Kirill Petrenko,, this Mahler Two might prove to offer spiritual uplift and dimension-stretching to anyone looking to vanquish, if only for ninety or so minutes, any dark thoughts as to what is happening at this time and what the future might hold.

In this third-time-this-week performance, Dudamel and the orchestra attacked the Symphony’s beginning with vehemence and precision. Pacing and tempo-contrasts were admirably cohesive, yet a greater sense of theatre was needed, of drama, which a less fleet speed might have aided.

(Allowing that Mahler requests a long pause between the first two movements, did he intend it to be filled by the choir and vocal soloists only now entering, cueing mood-breaking clapping; surely preferable to have everyone that is taking part already on the stage from the off.)

When the music resumed, the second movement was elegant if just a little sluggish, and the third, for all the clarity of detail and rhythmic point, rather too pastoral – again, one sought extra-musical impetuses, yet praise is also due to Dudamel for resisting intervention. In ‘Urlicht’, Okka von der Damerau (replacing Marianne Crebassa, was an eloquent conveyer of the Anonymous text (Mahler’s setting is also part of Des Knaben Wunderhorn), a reminder of her memorable appearance in Zubin Mehta’s recent Berlin Mahler Three, There were superlative and solemn contributions from trumpets and horns.

As for the outsize Finale, neither ominous nor momentous enough in the opening measures, the two extended crescendos just a little cut short, not eruptive enough, and the ensuing march was a notch too quick. (It’s a matter of single-figure degrees.) Off-stage contributions ideally distant, however. With the first sounds from the chorus, magically quiet, sung from the heart (and from memory), Nadine Sierra radiant, there was a transformation of communication, chillingly so, in a good way, a vision had opened up, a sense of release, of redemption, and this Janus-like rendition ended in glorious Technicolor. I wonder if this relay reached anyone in Ukraine…

Nadine Sierra soprano

Okka von der Damerau mezzo-soprano

Rundfunkchor Berlin