Monday, November 29, 2010


The word incautious caught my attention. I don't recall having ever seen it before, and certainly not the noun. Better late than never, although I can't see myself dragging it into the everyday: 'that was rather incautious of you' is at the least a bit awkward. However, it served its purpose in Peter MacCallum's review of last week's Sydney Symphony Orchestra's Mozart Clarinet Concerto coupled with Mahler's Fourth.

He was referring to the soloist for the Mozart being Dimitri Ashkenazy, son of the orchestra's chief conductor Vladimir, our Vlad. And the context in which caution was referenced was the recent unpleasant to-do about then music director of Opera Australia, Richard Hickox (whose sudden death served to even further the angst) casting his wife Pamela Helen Stephen in local operas where others were considered, by vocal discontents, to be as, if not more, worthy. I'm not sure the comparison stands up.

Richard Hickox's critics were rooted in company members who were, they claimed, missing out in favour of younger singers, and it appeared to me that Mrs Hickox was the obvious lightning rod. It was a cruel and weak choice, not the least as Hickox was engaged when the company had unceremoniously sent Simone Young packing (to her susbstantial benefit as it turns out) and were left with an empty podium. That he relocated his family, wife and school age children, from one hemisphere to the other, was clearly a necessity, and with it, she, the wicked interloper, was surely removed from her artistic connections and career opportunities in the north. That they, he and she, saw it as reasonable that she get work here seems perfectly reasonable to me. And it seemed to me her use was more than fair, both in the roles she was given and the talent she brought. The vitiperation even extended to a snipe at one son being given a walk on part in Billy Budd.

There are no such complexities around the young Dimitri Ashkenazy, except that both father and son have been attached to Sydney by misadventure, and Sydney audiences seem proud, if not honoured, to have someone as internationally recognised as Ashkenzy snr as chief conductor. A risk on incaution? - slight at most and better left unsaid. The audience gave its verdict (I was there on the Friday, the day of the 'warning'), with a very warm reception given the shy and nervous looking Dimitri as he walked onstage, and after, an enthusiastic response which encouraged him to give a lovely stream of consciousness encore (a composition by his partner apparently) with solo viola as haunting echo, the whole effect reminding me of those Paul Horn (flute notwithstanding) in the Great Pyramid and Taj Mahal recordings.

To see them, father and son, embrace on the Sydney stage, was heartfelt and transcendent of pure, you could almost say cold, music making. Murray Black, for the record, was more kind.

That for me the Mahler 4 didn't transcend is another matter, although the third movement nearly, you now that nearly feeling, did. Mahler 4 (a strange assembly of four 'movements', looking back, looking forward, a hard to categorise musical bridge) and I go back to the 60s, with the Klemperer Philharmonia and Schwarskopf and more recently I have become obsessed with the Fischer Budapest Festival Orchestra release. I often, in fact mostly, play sections in isolation and find the third movement, which in the Hungarians hands is as sublime as sublime gets, an all but perfect summary of what Mahler is on about. In fact, maybe it's all you need. It certainly is a perfect introduction to someone who seeks to 'get into Mahler' - if that doesn't do it, then Mahler's not for you.

Introduction to Mahler pieces was the first thing I saw when I flicked through Norman Lebrecht's latest book, Why Mahler?, very prominently displayed in the local bookshop, on that same Friday as the concert in question. Lebrecht suggests an ingenue go unprepared to a performance of the Second, and that's pretty good advice. Flicking on, the next tit bit I came across was some discussion about Mahler and his circumcision. Only Lebrecht could and would go there. Philip Kennicott's review, in which he quips the book should be titled My Mahler, such is the fetishism, is worth a read in itself.

Anyway, titillated by now, I risked incaution, and bought it.

No comments: