Sunday, March 21, 2010

Akron Symphony: Mahler and Zander

Mahler: Symphony No. 9 in D major
Benjaman Zander, conductor; at Cleveland's Severance Hall

I am a fan of Akron Symphony's use of the conductor do deliver the pre-concert lecture; aside from giving insight into the piece, it gives you an idea of the conductor's motivations when the piece is being performed. Mr. Zander expertly and humorously guided the audience through the intimidating structure of the piece, including noting that the first movement alone was longer than the entirety of Beethoven's 5th.

The piece, although long, was enjoyable. My preference was for the more lively (and shorter) 2nd and 3rd movements, and I was struck by the profundity of the work during the utter silence enveloping the extended pause between the conclusion of the fourth movement and the end of Mr. Zander's prolonged relaxation. I was impressed by the displayed endurance--playing for nearly 9o minutes with only three brief pauses, yet the piece didn't earn a spot in my heart.

The staging of the orchestra was interesting, divorcing the second violins from the first and giving them equal weight on opposite sides of the conductor with the violas and cellos filling the intervening space, giving a remarkably balanced sound to the string section (I will confess I found myself wondering, ignoring the nightmare it would create for a conductor, what it would sound like if the strings were interleaved rather than segregated)

Although the performance received a standing ovation, and on any other weekend I may have stood as well, still riding a bit of a high from the ethereal performance by a different orchestra in the same hall last night, I couldn't convince myself to stand. While concerts were both richly textured, today's didn't engender that unworldly feeling that comes when the orchestra, conductor, and audience are in perfect synchronization: The two performances were in incomparably different strata.


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