Saturday, December 18, 2021

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

Zubin Mehta (born 1936) has been a regular guest of the Berlin Philharmonic since 1961 – conducting it at home, on tour, and in recordings. For his latest visit it was the six-movement Mahler 3, a performance that varied significantly in comparison with my most-recent experience of this vast Symphony, conducted by Paavo Järvi,

Whereas Järvi gave us a cinematic realisation of such as Spring Marching In, of Flowers, of Animals, and of Divine Love, and took ninety-five minutes, the seated Mehta’s just-as-compelling reading (conducted without need for the score) was more of a scenic painting, slow-burn, sure of itself, with detailed and burnished, articulate and expressive playing, so that the expansive seasonal-change first movement thawed from being a pastoral stroll full of flora and fauna mimicry to become a militaristic campaign of purpose and swagger, if somewhat short of party-revelling, arrived at without fracturing the whole, with the return of the eight-horn opening made organic, ditto the coda, here joyous (harp swirls unusually prominent) – we’d been going there all the time – and yet, this wholly different approach to Järvi’s, seemingly far more measured, was, at thirty-four, only one-minute longer.

The second movement was gracious and agile, the third pointed and playful, some fiercer creatures, too, the vistas from above and far-away sounded by a magically distant posthorn solo (a flugelhorn on this occasion, suggested the interviewed Mehta) before blissful reminiscence contrasted with biting tailpiece, heralded by harps and keeping violins in the picture. Then Okka von der Damerau dug deep into Nietzsche’s Zarathustra words, with oboe as calling bird, subsequently complemented by lusty ladies’ and boys’ voices Wunderhorn-ing, and a set of real bells, before a heartfelt slow Finale of rapt contemplation (the way the Berliners played, with such sensitivity and intimacy, will haunt me) that chartered inevitably to a golden-timbred conclusion, from deep in the forest to reaching the Pearly Gates, a processional underpinned by two in-sync timpanists, to conclude a one-hundred-minute account that compelled attention. Despite a sonorous ultimate chord, it was some time before anyone applauded, a significant silence, the audience waiting for Mehta to signal Mahler Three had now finished.

Okka von der Damerau mezzo-soprano

Ladies of the Rundfunkchor Berlin

Boys of the Berlin State and Cathedral Choir