Friday, February 19, 2010


It should be enough just to be hear Mahler's 8th live, anywhere anytime, and it seems lots agree - it always manages to sell out. Last night's Sydney Symphony Season Opening Gala in a bronzed golden dressed Concert Hall was no exception with a sell-out crowd. My problem was that I was more excited about it before the performance than afterwards, unlike last week's Mahler 1 when expectations were lower and I wasn't the only one leaving the hall punching the air with a 'yes..yes' as if we'd just won some football final.

Perhaps it is a bit of a curse with the big one - the expectation that big enough will be good enough and sure to get you to Heaven by sheer size. I think this is the fourth live Mahler 8 I've heard (they don't come around here all that often) with the last being Edo de Waart's (SSO) 2000 Olympic Concert in the vast arena now sponsor-named Acer or similar. And I tried to be ready - I worked through it (my old Solti on vinyl) 3 times in the last week. But it still catches me by surprise, the first movement anyway. There is enough shifting of gears and keys to make it still disturbingly unfamiliar as was Mahler's intent I suppose, the unsettling unpredictable clashing tumultuous conflict of this blighted existence. The second movement's realisation of ascendency and acceptance into the Presence is more digestible at a superficial level but no less dense in its roots from the first (movement).

I didn't get to Heaven; nearly maybe, except that with Heaven there is no nearly. It wasn't because of the lack of some very fine moments. The choral work was beautiful and more than enough in itself to be thankful you were there. Perhaps some of the sound was trapped up the top under the overhang, but how these forces maintained such unison of articulation and balance was a wonder in itself. I wanted the Waldung, sie schwankt heran to go on forever - that would have been Heaven.

And of the femaile soloists, the Russian Marina Shaguch virtually stole the show with a voluptuos rich soprano with the weight to take on the orchestra and Simon O'Neill's Doctor Marianus gave me my one fleeting goosebump heart skip moment with his glorious emotional invocation of the Virgin Mary.

There were a few gremlins nonetheless. The audience behaved impeccably as exhorted but not the poltergeists, who like some defiant moments from the exorcist managed to fling Mr Ashkenazy's spectacles to the floor and then later throw a walking stick or the like to the ground in clatter of outrage at the stillness and beauty of the moment.

C commented afterwards that things sounded very congested where they sat (front stalls) and that on reflection the De Waart Olympic performance was better if for no other reason than it had more air. The issue of venue is pretty relevant. We were front circle and I think that was too close as well. No wonder they built a purpose build venue for the first performance. I wonder what it is like to hear it somewhere like The Royal Albert Hall perhaps.

The orchestra played on, and on, and on, untidy moments notwithstanding Mr A's attempts to keep things together. Olympics is where this exercise belongs. And lots of training. I don't know how much rehearsal time something like this needs, but I think this needed a little more. If I sound ungrateful, I don't mean to be. It is just that Heaven is really hard to get to.

The programme notes mention that "The limited edition recording of the Sydney Symphony's performance with Edo de Waart in 2000 was never released commercially - if you own a copy, keep it well". I'd love to hear that again. I well remember the sopranos, they had the right stuff - Alessandra Marc, Elizabeth Connell, and I think Mater Gloriosa was Shu-Cheen Yu.


wanderer said...

Another memorable aspect of that 2000 de Waart SSO Mahler 8 was that there was no organ in the venue so they relayed it in, from the Opera House Concert Hall, or maybe the Town Hall, not sure now, but what an undertaking.

Anonymous said...

Ah, Alessandra Marc! The woman with the independent buttocks (rude to remark upon, I suppose, but they were a memorable phenomenon). She is one singer I would very much like to have back to visit in Sydney.

wanderer said...

Yes indeed, don't get me started. But you have. You too must have heard her luscious sensual Sieglinde and/or that off-the-conductor-leash rather wild ride recital, a piano, a big barrel of lillies, and a very big voice. That was the best Walkure ever - pity there's no record. that I know of.

Anonymous said...

I saw Die W - I rather think twice. I missed the recital, probably because I was relatively impoverished at the time - for circumstantial confirmation of which see my post Work 11 – hard work, worst jobs..

Incidentally, A Marc also features on a recording of Krenek's Jonny spielt auf issued as part of the Entarte Musik series and conducted by Lothar Zagrosek who was here a year or so ago. That is my own choice of the rarity which I would like to see mounted here in Sydney or at least Australia. I admit the chances are fairly slim, but if they could do it at Buenos Aires with all those ex-Nazis hanging around, why not here? (That excerpt doesn't really give a fair view of the work as a whole - there are quite a lot of big romantic-artistic moments as well, and a big finish someone falling under a train at a Hauptbahnhof.)

wanderer said...

Whooaa, nicely left field thank you, and great links, not the least being Work 11, which predates our paths crossing. Familiar as I have been with years of student support physical jobs, labouring included, I didn't ever do nasty towels, or Harry M, swap adjective around if you like.

When I searched and purchased what I could of Marc, there were then only some recital discs, mostly Wagner (with NZ orchestra) I recall without rifling through the stockpile, so the Krenek is interesting. I think I'd wish for an Ariadne, and firm conductor, Zagrosek would do nicely.

Exploring Krenek was especially enlightening, discovering he was briefly the son-in-law of Alma Mahler, who prevailed upon him to try to finish the 10th, and had an association with the fascinating Queensland (by birth) violinist Alma Templeton Moodie.