Saturday, March 2, 2013

Cleveland Orchestra: Dohnanyi Conducts Mahler:s First

Henze: Adagio, Fugue, and Dance of the Maenads from the opera The Bassarids
Mahler: Symphony No. 1 ("Titan")
Christoph von Dohnanyi, conductor

There are some conductors that you can tell an orchestra distrusts and only puts on the mildist pretense of following, there are other conductors that the orchestra follows -- if sometimes only grudgingly. The last group of Conductors are those who seem to be one with the orchestra with whom they are working. Mr. von Dohnanyi is clearly in the later category.

Just as clearly The Cleveland Orchestra and von Dohnanyi have a special relationship.

Although the suite from the opera The Bassarids was interesting in parts, it didn't really hold my attention or captivate strong imagery. The staging for both pieces on tonight's program was rather unusual --1st and 2nd violins flanking the conductor, cellos and violas in the outfield, basses house left, harps and keys house  right -- and the difference in the layering of the sounds was interesting (and I will say I could get used to it).

The main course on tonight's program was Mahler's Symphony No. 1, and each of the four movements had a distinct personality -- and Mr. von Dohnanyi provided that personality entirely from memory. The first movement began softly and with bugle calls in the far distance -- my sense was as if approaching a distant gathering and as the movement progressed the listener comes close to the gathering.

In the second movement, we hear two dances, the somewhat fast and loose -- adolescent, if you will -- waltz with hints of the first movement sounds, which gives way to the more dignified and loving slower second dance. The third movement continues the serious tone with a beautifully vivid dirgeish-solo bass over slight tympani. The finale begins with a cymbal crash and after crossing stormy water, triumpahnt horns return order the piece.



  1. Actually, the seating Dohnanyi uses is the plan that has been customary in Europe. This was also the plan used by Toscanini, who believed that the 1st and 2nd violins were the "shoulders" of the orchestra and should be balanced and equal.

    This was also customary in America until around the time stereo recording was introduced, and some producer though it would be "cool" to have all the violins screeching out of the left speaker.

  2. Very interesting! Having heard the arrangement last night I do think it soundsed much more balanced than (what I think of as) the "traditional" arrangement.