Thursday, October 18, 2007


GM: "I really must get some bathing shorts..."

Thought it might be fun to go with some friends to listen to the LPO playing Mahler 2 last night at the RFH, with Simone Young conducting. It was fun. We egged on Tom and his colleagues as they rode the surf waves through the Totenfeier, tapped our feet as the second and third movements jaunted along like Offenbach and the nice loud, slow passages towards the end made us think of relaxing in Doyles Fish Restaurant on the beach at Watson's Bay watching the sunset over Sydney Harbour, enjoying fresh barramundi with a glass of...

Hang on. This is Mahler 2, the 'Resurrection' symphony: a crisis of faith and lack of it. "This is an angry protest against death's dominion," says the programme note of the first movement. Mahler described the scherzo: "the world and life become a witch's brew [resulting in] disgust of existence in every form". That familiar tune that keeps returning in the last movement's perambulations is the bloody Dies Irae. This symphony is a matter of life and death.

"What is life and what is death?" wrote Mahler, explaining the first movement. "Have we any continuing existence? Is it all an empty dream, or has this life of ours, and our death, a meaning?" He said: "My need to express myself musically begins at the point where the dark feelings hold sway, at the door which leads into the 'other world' - the world in which things are no longer separated by space and time."

I found myself longing for Solti - the real, Hungarian, pile-driving, Screaming Skull Sir Georg - who would have electrified the entire South Bank. He would have had us on the edge of our seats, trembling on the brink of the chasm between heaven and hell. He would have terrified us with demoniac plainchant, made those clarinets snarl with cruelty and the violins and percussion hiss like asps, and at the last he'd have lifted us up to the blinding brilliance of that eternal, primordial light. And there would have been glory, tears, catharsis.

There were some justified complaints recently in the blogosphere (and elsewhere) about Gergiev's No.3 being under-rehearsed the other day. But Gergiev does have fire, imagination and a seriously galvanising presence. Last night's one-pot dinner was equally under-cooked, despite having had considerably more real-time rehearsal; soprano Melanie Diener, who can be wonderful, was having an off-night; and actually an evening at Doyle's would have been far preferable to a performance of such meaningful music played with utter meaninglessness. Young left us in no doubt that it was all an empty dream. Or just empty.

Word on the ground has it, meanwhile, that La Nina has pulled out of singing the Four Last Songs in the LPO/Young all-Strauss programme on Friday, though I don't know why. And if Also Sprach Zarathustra is going to get the Watson's Bay treatment too, then I'm staying home with Solti.