Mahler – Das Lied von der Erde

It is a luxury to live in Munich when you can hear two different top level performances of the same music in a week. Münchner Philharmoniker played Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde last night and Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks will be playing the same piece this coming Friday.

After hearing the New York Philharmonic playing Beethoven 6 live two weeks ago with Bernard Haitink, I actually have doubt about these world class orchestras and conductors. Why are they so much different from the recordings? I am not saying the live performances are bad, but there were not too much emotional expressions rather than notes, and it was not moving or touching in any sense. Aren’t we supposed to sound “more real” in live performances? Luckily, Zubin Mehta made quite an impression!

Last night was quite an experience. First, when I was in the line trying to get a ticket, this girl at the counter gave me a ticket for FREE, and I later found out that the seat was right in front of Mo. Mehta. He started with Schubert’s Overture to Rosamunde. Of course, Mo. Mehta had the overture memorized and to my surprise, he did not have a lot of rebound and was extremely calm throughout the whole piece, which is quite a contradiction to what I have seen on DVDs and what I am expecting. The orchestra responded to him quite distinctively from Lorin Maazel. I thought there were more discipline and focus, and it is amazing how they sounded so much better under Mehta’s baton. The only flaw in Schubert’s overture was the trombone’s syncopated passage, where they were late, both times!

The second piece on the program is Moritz Eggert‘s “Puls”, a kind of minimalism composition. There are some very cool effects but at the same time, there are some John-Williams-like passages that I thought could be less cheesy than it is, but overall, it was a moving performance.

Peter Seiffert (tenor) and Thomas Hampson (bariton) were the soloists of the night, both with great instruments. Although it is not necessary to have Mahler memorized, but the distinction was obvious when one was singing without looking at the score while the other was looking at almost every single measure (You will have to figure out who used the score).

The orchestra sounded pretty amazing playing Mahler, especially the bass section. Their opening was just impeccable, the arpeggios were perfectly in tune with the right color and energy. Even though I have known that Marie-Luise Modersohn (principal oboe) is capable of changing her tone color accordingly, she was impressive with that warm sound of Mahler. Overall, the wind section is very strong as the principals are great in leading the whole group to play together.

In contrast, the strings, first violin in particular, were not together at times especially soft passages and at high register. As the hall is extremely exposed, it is hard for the violins to blend as a group, or rather they are not trained to do so. As much as I like Mehta, his rebounds does not help the violin to play together and he constantly hangs up in the air waiting for the singers made it hard for the strings and they somehow have to guess.

The ending was quite a joke. Mehta showed a little gesture (something like a jerk) and the oboe stopped playing while the celli kept on for another beat. That actually ruined the whole intention of ending together and let the sound ring. There was no resonance, more like a sudden halt, but Mehta still had to move his arms slowly upward showing the “unheard” resonance. In spite of the abruption, it was a great experience, the best by far with Münchner Philharmoniker. Look forward to Friday, for another performance of Das Lied von die Erde.

(Concert on November 21)

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2 Responses to Mahler – Das Lied von der Erde

  1. crookedkiwi says:

    Wow, Kai. Amazing experience and thanks for the description of it! If you want to hear a third live version, you should come to Berlin in the middle of December. Rattle is doing Das Lied with Berlin Phil. You are welcome to stay at my place if you need to. (I have to say, I don’t know so many recordings of Das Lied…but I love the one with Bernstein, James King and Fisher-Dieskau…you should check it out).

    • Khai says:

      YEAH! I would love to visit you and hear Berlin Phil! Arh… so I will have to miss either Mehta’s Bruckner 4 (Dec. 12) with the Bavaria State Orchestra, or Jansons’s Mahler 9 with the Bayerischer Rundfunk (Dec. 16), or spend less than 3 days in Berlin so that I won’t miss any of the performances! Is December 13-15/16 good to visit? I would like to see Rattle and Berlin Phil on 14!
      Fischer-Dieskau, yes! I’ll listen to it in the library later!

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