萊比鍚馬勒節2023 Leipzig Mahler Festival 2023

(English version at the bottom of each section.)


In 2011, 100th anniversary of Mahler’s death, Gewandhaus Leipzig hosted a Mahler festival not just featuring its home orchestra, but also guest orchestras from Germany or overseas. Leipzig intended to repeat the feat in 2021 but covid struck, and Gewandhaus promptly preempted it to May 2023. And what joy for Mahlerians that the pandemic is gone. In 11 concerts all Mahler symphonies were presented, including the juvenile work Das klagende Lied and the Deryck Cooke version of No.10. Most visitors for the cycle only started to attend on May 19 but nominally the festival kicked off on May 11, with a concert performance of a rare work.

May 11: Die drei Pintos

Gewandhaus Orchestra / Dmitri Jurowski

萊比鍚馬勒節第一個節目,是馬勒在擔任萊比鍚歌劇院總指揮時,把韋伯未完成歌劇《三個品圖》寫完的音樂會版本。事緣韋伯為劇中一半的歌曲起了稿後,因為上演場合忽然無了而擱筆,全曲的歌曲旋律在他腦中繼續醞釀,但就沒有寫下來,隨着他40歲英年早逝而凐沒。馬勒的任務,一方面是把只得簡略旋律的歌曲完成,另一方面從韋伯其他作品的旋律,填上韋伯完全沒起稿的部份。原著的小說名為Die Brautkampf,用大戲的劇名去譯,就是搶新娘的意思。三個男人爭一個女子,不過她鍾情的是第四位。


原本的指揮Petr Popelka是一位冒起很快的指揮,結果由另一位尤洛夫斯基代替。男主角Gaston也有換人,雖然想聽原來的,但Benjamin Bruns也是頂級之選,甚至比原本的有名。

During Mahler’s sojourn as Leipzig’s opera chief he was approached by Weber’s grandson to complete an unfinished opera Die drei Pintos. Mahler took it up but the work was heavier than he thought. Mahler went through Weber’s manuscripts and many forgotten works for melodies to fill in the yet to be composed numbers. In the end Mahler came up with a passable completion that is more Weber and very little Mahler.

Dmitri Jurowski replaced the up-and-coming Czech conductor Petr Popelka in this concert performance, although I wondered if the choice of conductor really matter. All the spoken dialogue was left out and we got to hear 110 minutes of arias, choruses and two finales. If Mahler chose to stick with obscure melodies then it’s natural to get an obscure-sounding opera. Yet Mahler took a lot of labour to reproduce the sophisticated accompaniment to the vocal numbers but I think Mahler made the orchestra work too hard. Tenor Benjamin Bruns gave quite a satisfactory performance but I had no premonition of his sorry state at the performance of the 8th Symphony two weeks later.

May 18: Symphony No.2

Gewandhaus Orchestra / Andris Nelsons

5月18日是馬勒忌日,今年湊巧是德國假期(基督升天日),不過很多從外地來的馬勒迷選擇遲一天到達,因為這場主隊演出會在三天後再演。萊比鍚在2011年辦過一次馬勒節,那年是馬勒逝世一百週年,那次我在5月17日看了布業大廳樂團當時的總指揮沙伊(Riccardo Chailly)指揮《復活》,這次由現任總指揮尼遜斯(Andris Nelsons)指揮。

遺憾是中國女高音方穎(Ying Fang)要辭演這兩場《復活》和之後的三場第八, 2019年梵志登和港樂那次《復活》也是由她唱,替代她的是新晉女高音Nikola Hillebrand。至於女中音Gerhild Romberger參與了我在2018年看過,尼遜斯在柏林和柏林愛樂的同曲演出,那次我覺得不算特別,我甚至覺得梵志登那場更佳。



In 2011 then Chief Conductor Riccardo Chailly kicked off the festival with the same symphony. I saw the May 17 performance but wasn’t thrilled by it. 12 years later I was back for Nelsons’ take on No.2. I actually saw him do the same work with Berlin Philharmonic but quite similarly I wasn’t thrilled. Based on a Dvorak 6 with Vienna Philharmonic last year in Berlin, I found that Nelsons’ interpretation had broadened quite a bit. The same for this opening performance of Mahler 2. The first movement was 25 minute long but a solemn feeling prevailed, reminding us of the funereal and ceremonial nature of this movement.

Nelsons sat down and took a 3-minute break after the first movement, probably an adjusted version of Mahler’s indication of a pause of at least five movements. The other movements were also done with relatively low volumes but shattering climaxes. The timpani could sure wake up the dead. Still I admire the sense of ceremony in all the movements, as if each of them has a tender adagio contained within.

Many visitors preferred to arrive on the next day and see the repeat performance on Sunday (21) morning. I saw that also and Nelsons seemed to have more energy in that one. Nevertheless Nelsons’ control and concentration were faultless, no matter what you think about the tempi or his physique. Although a more orthodox performance, I missed the higher religious or ceremonial atmosphere of the first concert.

May 19: Symphony No.4, Das Lied von der Erde

Munich Philharmonic / Tugan Sokhiev

連奏兩首一小時長的馬勒交響曲,因為原定指揮是像鐵人的格杰夫(Valery Gergiev),他在2011年帶過倫敦交響樂團來萊比鍚奏第一及第十慢板,去年起他被西方杯葛,慕尼黑政府撤去他慕尼黑愛樂音樂總監之職。這場換成另一位俄國指揮索契夫(Tugan Sokhiev),他在戰事爆發後辭去在法國及俄羅斯的職位,保住聲譽。

我本以為索契夫較想指揮第四,勉為其難接下《大地之歌》,結果可能相反,《大地之歌》指得較有心機。這是我第一次看索契夫,才發覺他可能崇拜阿巴度(Claudio Abbabo),因為他很想樂手互相聆聽,他極力避免一二三四的打拍子,追求較柔軟、富彈性的音樂。不過從索契夫和樂隊的互動,以及實質奏出來的聲響,我認為根本是索契夫不清不楚,太多地方不足表達力,樂句雕琢得不夠。

獨唱方面,《第四》的女高音Christiane Karg我聽過不少次,好像沒聽過她唱馬勒,這次覺得她不夠力。《大地之歌》有當紅華格納男高音Andreas Schager是一大賣點,他的華格納我聽過不少,但要承認他走下坡了,然而他不需要指揮特別遷就,這種硬碰硬的《大地之歌》在現場來說仍是難得的。沒記錯的話,女中音Ekaterina Gubanova應該唱過十幾年前,迪華特和港樂《蝴蝶夫人》的配角鈴木,她這晚是高水平但不算難忘,在第四樂章她配合索契夫的快速,不顧形象唱到上氣不接下氣,應該就是馬勒原意。不過在關鍵的第六樂章(告別)我還是想聽中下盤較強的歌手(例如《復活》的Romberger),但她的高音是好聽,魚與熊掌不能兼得。

It’s against common sense to programme these two hour-long symphonies in one concert, probably the decision of the scheduled conductor Valery Gergiev. Because of the Ukraine War Gergiev was cancelled in Munich. Sokhiev, who was also Russian, made the well-accepted decision to quit his opera posts in Toulouse and Moscow and pretty got away scotch-free. He took over this nigh impossible concert but we clearly knew he wasn’t in favour of it because none of the other concerts of Munich Philharmonic’s Europe tour featured such a combination.

It’s my first time seeing Sokhiev live so I pretty much anticipated it. I was quite surprised to see some Abbado-ish conducting, Sokhiev always encouraging the players to listen to each other. The results didn’t justify such approach as I found the sound, especially in No.4, to be unsure and poorly polished. For instance in the third movement, Sokhiev’s indication to the first violins to listen to the violas and play softer was just absurd. You’re the conductor, do your job please.

I initially thought Sokhiev was reluctant to take on Das Lied von der Erde but the opposite seemed to be the case as he was more hands-on in the second half, pulling out interesting sounds from the orchestra. As for the singers. Christiane Karg (soprano) for the 4th Symphony seemed too small for her part. Andreas Schager was surely the star for the tenor part. I knew him quite well for his Wagner performances. Although I had to admit he was past his prime but he was still a daredevil in the face of the orchestral onslaughts of the first movement. Mezzo Ekaterina Gubanova followed Sokhiev’s fast tempi in the fourth movement, producing that out-of-breath feeling of the poem’s content of a gallop. I was less impressed with her “Farewell” because her lower notes weren’t deep enough for my taste. But you can’t have it both ways. Gubanova’s glorious high notes closed out the work appropriately.

May 20: Symphony No.5

Concertgebouw Orchestra / Myung-Whun Chung


感覺很不化算,只奏一首第五而沒其他配搭,但我從第二樂章便覺得可能是整個馬勒節最好的一場。阿姆斯特丹音樂廳樂團上次來香港,正是由鄭明勳(Myung-Whun Chung)帶領。樂團當時的總指揮是楊遜斯(Mariss Jansons),而當時香港觀眾及樂評對鄭明勳評價負面,我獨排眾議指出鄭明勳的控制力及精確度很超卓,憑我在2011年去過樂隊主場聽海廷克(Bernard Haitink)指揮馬勒九。


是否只是樂隊好?我敢這樣讚鄭明勳,先是我兩星期前才在漢堡聽過賈丁納(John Eliot Gardiner)和同一樂隊的布拉姆斯交響曲全集。賈丁納除了削去大部份揉弦,他也太自我陶醉,只得虛火,樂隊又草草不工。去年八月底在科隆聽麥凱萊(Klaus Mäkelä)指揮他們奏馬勒六,夠接近了沒有?都沒那麼豐富的層次。

正常來說,詮釋的最高境界是展現作品、乃至作曲家的真貌。但鄭明勳不只展現馬勒的可能,而是他透過本身是超卓指揮的馬勒在作品的嚴苛要求,示範到交響樂演奏可以講究到甚麼地步,指揮可以作甚麼要求,以及如何執行到。鄭明勳這種精準及紀律,最接近的應該是K佩特連高(Kiril Petrenko),經過這次我毫不猶豫放他在當今五大指揮之列。

The Amsterdam orchestra played Das Lied von der Erde under Fabio Luisi in the 2011 festival, returning this time for a one-off concert with Chung, with no tour attached. An odd choice to play only No.5 with no fillers or first half. To me Chung is vastly underrated, he doesn’t have the charisma of Ozawa or Mehta (to name just Asian conductors), nor was he ever the boss of a top notch orchestra or opera house. But a previous pair of concerts that I saw him conduct this very orchestra convinced me that this maestro has a pair of super-sharp ears and will have the ideal sound that he craves for.

The common definition of an interpreter’s craft is to show us the essence of the work and the composer. But I think Chung went a step further. This reading of Mahler 5 was so rich in nuances that no sound wasn’t carefully thought out and precisely executed. Take the opening trumpet solo, the sound was round with very rarely heard crescendos indicated in the score. (Kudos to the trumpet principal.) Unlike Nelsons, Chung never pushed climaxes and blasts to the maximum yet I could always feel the power, and the varying degrees of it. Instead of just presenting Mahler, Chung took Mahler’s complex scores and minute details as the guidebook on the potentials of orchestral playing. And Chung delivered such results that do justice not just to Mahler 5 but the legendary conductor named Mahler. To me, the best concert of the festival.

May 21: Symphony No.10 (Cooke version)

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra / Robert Trevino

尼遜斯做過伯明翰的音樂總監,請他們來很恰當,馬勒又是拉圖(Simon Rattle)伯明翰年代的招牌菜。Cooke完成版的馬勒十至今未被大部份指揮接受,青年拉圖的同曲錄音是他一個代表作,儘管不是和伯明翰灌錄的。尼遜斯離開伯明翰後,接棒但已退位的Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla本是這場指揮,她因病辭演,換成美國指揮崔維諾(Robert Trevino)。我對他的錄音有好感,雖然我想一探Gražinytė-Tyla之虛實。



Nelsons rose to stardom during his stint in Birmingham so it was quite natural to ask his old band to take part in the festival. CBSO’s Rattle era also saw him record a Mahler cycle for EMI, although Rattle’s first recording of the Cooke Mahler 10 was actually made with the Bournemouth Symphony. Still, I had yet to hear this version live, an additional factor of anticipation came from the scheduled conductor, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, Nelsons’ successor but no longer chief in Birmingham.

But Gražinytė-Tyla pulled out of this. Robert Trevino, whose recordings I listened to quite positively, jumped in. Interpretation-wise Trevino’s approach was quite unexpected. I did my homework not just for the completed Mahler symphonies but also this Cooke completion as well. From them I now seem to have a grasp on why most Mahler conductors still chose not to perform this version (or any other version). Cooke was too careful in his orchestration, resulting in a rather sparse orchestral sound. There simply is a lack of polyphony not only from that of No.9, I’d even say it’s not even appropriate for No.5.

Trevino got around this shortcoming by raising the sound level of the individual parts. Conduct an usual Mahler symphony this way would be disastrous but here it was the perfect solution to the tinny orchestration of Cooke. We all know the finale (5th) movement is the mirror image of the opening Adagio with its highly dissonant climax. But my preparation of the score and the various recordings I heard didn’t prepare me for the explosion unleashed by Trevino in the finale. I must say it’s a nuclear explosion.

I totally enjoyed the performance but it must be pointed out after the heaven that was Chung and Concertgebouw, this CBSO I saw here (I saw it play under Nelsons on his last season) were a train wreck. Sound was big but very harsh andcoarse. I didn’t get to hear Gražinytė-Tyla but I think I did hear her mark on the orchestra.

May 22: Symphony No.7

Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra / Daniel Harding

簡稱BRSO,另一隊慕尼黑樂隊。楊遜斯2019年逝世後,拉圖會在23/24樂季就任音樂總監,哈丁(Daniel Harding)是他最得意門生。約十年前哈丁多次帶團來港,BRSO上次來港就由哈丁帶來,就像鄭明勳帶阿姆斯特丹來一樣。香港聽過哈丁的馬勒一四五,一和五是倫敦交響樂團,四則是馬勒室樂團,當晚的節目哈丁和馬勒室樂團更在2011年萊比鍚馬勒節奏過。



After Jansons’ untimely death Rattle will formally take over BRSO in the 23/24 season. Harding is without doubt Rattle’s most successful protégé, but he seems to be not going places. He only has one long term post (Swedish Radio Symphony) and he has pleasure flaunting his (commercial) pilot credentials on his bio. Some years ago I saw Harding with BRSO on their Asian tour but I was still unhappy that Jansons didn’t take his band to my hometown. (I did see Jansons and BRSO several times, though.)

I couldn’t understand why Harding, at 48, is still a much sought-for guest by so many top orchestras. When he was a wonder boy I hardly felt enough wonder. But this Mahler 7 was beyond my wildest dreams. The more one is familiar with the score the more one would appreciate Harding’s greatness. Yes, I’m calling him great. The BRSO not only surpassed their Munich rival orchestra but also themselves.

This is probably the Mahler 7 for those who are still perplexed by this work. To me he really showed what the work really is, it’s a light-hearted work written with highly complex parts. So many conductors tried to mask their inadequacy in mastering the work by extreme (usually slow) tempi or let the details go all over the place.

But I have one major reservation. Harding can tease out the emotions throughout the piece but I think he lacked passion, the passion to dig behind the written note, into the unknown possibilities like Chung did in his No.5. I don’t really love this performance, but I say this with the utmost respect and admiration. Harding is now too good for British orchestras, including LSO. He’s ready for big time.

May 23: Symphony No.9

Budapest Festival Orchestra / Ivan Fischer




Unlike his brother Adam who wrapped up his Mahler cycle in Dusseldorf in a handful of seasons, Ivan has yet to complete his cycle with his Budapest Festival Orchestra after 15 years or so. It’s been almost a decade that I saw Ivan and Budapest but I saw Ivan a couple of times in Berlin, one of which is a Mahler 1 with the Berlin Philharmonic.

I must confess this is a major letdown. Once renowned for its high standards and the avoidance of mundaneness the orchestra has now gone rusty. And like rusty machines it takes more power to run. Therefore the vigorous 3rd movement made up for the orchestra’s inadequacies with the high volume, so did the passionate finale that prompted the audience on their feet.

I can easily forgive Munich Phil who deposed their Russian chief and didn’t really know how to make do with the replacement conductor. Or even the quite provincial Birmingham who at least have the zeal to blow you away. But this Budapest band is now a phantom of its glorious past, and what’s worse, Ivan doesn’t seem to have the will to turn things around. The biggest disappointment of this festival.

May 24: Symphony No.10 Adagio, No.1

Daniele Gatti / Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester

格提(Daniele Gatti)在2011年帶維也納愛樂到萊比鍚奏了馬勒九,我心目中他不算是傑出馬勒指揮。馬勒曾擔任萊比鍚歌劇院的總指揮,第一也是在萊比鍚動筆,難度不及往後作品,所以由馬勒青年樂團去奏也是好的?我大錯特錯,這場是繼鄭明勳及哈丁另一個佳句,我又對格提刮目相看了。



Yes, this is the youth orchestra founded by Abbado in the 1980s. And yes, this is the Gatti that was kicked out of Amsterdam following a harassment scandal (he was cleared of misconduct). I think I last saw Gatti on one of his last (or perhaps his last) concert with the Orchestre National de France, as he was set to assume his Amsterdam post. It was Bruckner 8, although I appreciated certain insights but I didn’t really consider him good enough for the Concertgebouw Orchestra.

This is my least anticipated concert as a complete No.10 was already played and I was quite fed up with No.1, despite seeing two quite good performances in Berlin last year (Lahav Shani / Rotterdam Philharmonic and Ivan Fischer / Berlin Phil).

During the Adagio the 72-strong strings of GMJO already revealed themselves to be more disciplined than last night’s Budapest. Not only the execution but also the interpretation was superb. Gatti rightly positioned this Adagio as the extension of the Ninth’s finale, with its despair and gloom. I thought it was played quite slowly but no, Gatti only took 25 minutes but I already felt being crushed by the depressiveness.

I didn’t imagine No.1 being stretched so much. So much so that Gatti almost split all beats into halves. An analogy might be Celibidache’s Mahler, if he chose to do it. The first movement sounded very sleepy but that’s exactly the point. Before getting to the climax the movement went on slowly but with an overwhelmingly beautiful tone. Approaching the end Gatti abruptly reverted to our accustomed tempo, but this produced the extra dimension of a real spring awakening. Too many details to go through one by one but to be concise, even the noisiest and messiest mass of sound (in particular the beginning of the finale) sounded tidy and luminous. You just couldn’t imagine that this was “just” a youth orchestra. I hope Gatti could leave a legacy with a professional orchestra.

May 25: Symphony No.3

Staatskapelle Dresden / Christian Thielemann

前一晚的格提馬勒一很慢,蒂利文(Christian Thielemann)和德累斯頓的第三是極快,90分鐘奏完,今時今日,馬勒三100分鐘以下已算快。我看蒂利文的次數超過本節其他指揮的總和,他很少奏馬勒,我既期待又怕他亂來,被遠道而來的馬勒迷唾棄。


In 2011 the Staatskapelle Dresden played under Salonen this very symphony in Leipzig. But Thielemann? The Bruckner conductor who already recorded two Bruckner cycles? I had way more performances of Thielemann under my belt than the sum total of the other conductors of the festival. Yes I’m a Thielemann die-hard, but I was scared. Would he make a mess and disgrace himself? He already did No.3 before covid and he’ll bow out from the Semperoper with No.8. In 2011 I saw him conduct the No.10 Adagio and some Wunderhorn songs with Munich Philharmonic. But you can’t say he’s a Mahlerian.

But this is definitely a revelation performance, in two varying senses. If memory serves me well, a 1970s edition of the score published by the Mahler Society suggested a playing time of 90 minutes. The latest critical edition of Breitkopf and Hartel suggested 110 minutes. Nowadays the typical performance lasts around 100 minutes, but Thielemann only took 90. That’s probably the typical speed when Mahler symphonies were still rarities and there was a possibility that Mahler might have liked it that way.

While Gatti had the tendency to go too slow and split up the beats, Thielemann did the opposite. He kept beating the 4/4 sections in quick four beats but the phrasings were without doubt alla breve. I think it’s a valid approach, but I don’t think it sounded good, or justified a Mahlerian grand orchestra.

The second revelation is the final 6th movement. As conductors and Mahler fans tried to go slower and slower for sublimation, Thielemann’s approach was so personal, even like his Bruckner interpretations post-pandemic. Thielemann seemed to pay tribute to Mahler the great conductor and mesmerizing interpreter by shaping the massive Adagio free from the shackles of the printed score. It’s a truly spontaneous and heartfelt account, and only possible for a conductor who won’t bother with tackling the complete Mahler symphonies. I refused to join in the standing ovation as I just couldn’t forgive his unorthodox treatment of the first five movements but I was still clapping loudly.

May 26: Symphony No.8

Gewandhaus Orchestra / Andris Nelsons


這場的成人合唱團共170人,童聲60人,一共230人。不拆走第一行觀眾席,舞台仍能把包含60人弦樂、夠數的管樂、敲擊、多部鍵盤的巨型樂隊放得下。合唱夠聲有餘,成人歌手如達職業水平,在音響合理的音樂廳百多人已很夠。水平太低的話加到500人都不夠聲,總數1000人的演奏是無用的(也不是馬勒原意),我親身經歷過,就是2012年杜達美(Gustavo Dudamel)洛杉磯那次。

Logistics幾乎滿分,我認為只是總綵排水平,但若是第一次現場聽,遇上這個演奏已要感恩。有些獨唱根本沒出全力,男高音不幸失聲,但主要問題是我覺得尼遜斯(Andris Nelsons)未投入他在《復活》的心機,我感覺不到火花以及演奏者參與盛事的自豪,logistics太好反成障礙。

No one is going to deny that this was the most eagerly anticipated concert (two further performances) of the festival. Previous concerts showed that the Gewandhaus is an ideal venue for Mahler, and last week’s No.2 confirmed Nelsons’ expertly handling of the Mahler orchestra and chorus.

Contrary to belief this symphony doesn’t work well with a huge chorus. Bigger the chorus the more amateurs in it and a 500, 600-strong force won’t sound as well as professionals half the size. Three adult choruses and two children choruses made up for a double choir totaling 170 adults, plus a further 60 children’s voices. Not just the venue but Leipzig has the perfect logistics for the mammoth piece. If it was your first live Mahler 8 (my sixth) I knew this would be a memorable experience before the first note was sounded. I had too many bad live Mahler 8 to recognize the bad signs, or the absence of.

It didn’t take long for me to realize this is nothing more than a dress rehearsal. Two female soloists dropped out, they were replaced by able but not really great singers. Soprano 2 didn’t sing in full voice, the tenor’s voice broke. I forgave the latter (although quite embarrassing for him) but not the former. The stage was large enough to contain the right number of orchestral players and instruments but there was no urgency, no tension, no pride that they (orchestra, choruses, conductor, soloists) were doing something super important. Great logistics can be a curse also.

May 27: Totenfeier, 5 Songs, Das klagende Lied

Dennis Russell Davies / MDR Symphony

樂團是萊比鍚的第二隊樂團,2011年奏足本馬勒十,今次也有特別任務。開場曲《葬禮》(Totenfeier)即是《復活》第一樂章的早期版本,編制較小,有些段落頗有布魯克納的手影。今次馬勒節忽略了管弦歌曲,這場唱五首,聊勝於無,全由以色列女高音Chen Reiss唱出,她2013年來過香港唱馬勒四。

《訴冤之歌》(Das klagende Lied)才是主菜,可是演奏兩樂章版本,馬勒在1898年把他這首青年作品修訂,並刪了第一樂章(半小時)。本來失望不是足本,但兩樂章版本已覺累贅。既可說兩樂章版已不算精采,何必聽三樂章版;亦可說定必捱一次,何不就捱足本?羅素戴維斯(Dennis Russell Davies)最為人熟悉是他和格拉斯(Philip Glass)合作數十年,即使現在奏馬勒,全晚都令我覺得是很老實的演奏,遠勝布達佩斯、伯明翰,甚至慕尼黑愛樂這三場。

The concert with the most unfilled seats of the series. It’s the “other” Leipzig orchestra performing Mahler rarities. Totenfeier is of course the early version of 1st movement of Resurrection but this was my first time hearing it live. Strictly for reference purpose, the amendments before Mahler reached the final version were Brucknerian in the sense for many simplified but satisfying solutions in our accustomed version. But some excised sections were quite Brucknerian in nature, for example the string arpeggios.

I was initially disappointed that the final version of Das klagende Lied, without the original half-hour long 1st movement (Mahler cut it out), was to be performed on my first (probably last) live performance of this juvenile work. But I gradually realized the 2nd movement (1st in this revised version) repeated too much of the excised 1st movement. The final 40-minute version was already too long. However, one might also suggest if this is the only chance to see it, why not go the full monty and grit it out?

The orchestra actually sounded better than I expected. Russell Davies, the famed Glass collaborator, struck me this time as a highly reliable, even dead-on honest conductor. I didn’t enjoy the pieces but definitely enjoyed the playing. Chen Reiss sang all the five songs (three from Wunderhorn, two Rückert) and how I wish it was her in No.4!

May 28: Symphony No.6

Czech Philharmonic / Semyon Bychkov

週日中午是最後一場外隊演出,奏第六。去年我在漢堡聽過比契可夫(Semyon Bychkov)指揮當地的北德電台易北愛樂廳樂團演奏馬勒三,但我之前一日才聽完麥凱萊(Klaus Mäkelä)的西貝流士全集,加上樂隊被比契可夫綁手綁腳,我頗失望。就算捷克愛樂是比契可夫的子弟兵,我仍不存厚望,想不到那麼出色。




Last year I saw a decent but disappointing performance of Mahler 3 with Bychkov conducting the Hamburg NDR orchestra. I felt Bychkov’s strict music making was stifling the players and that performance was right after an eye-opening Sibelius cycle conducted by Klaus Mäkelä with the Oslo Philharmonic. I knew Czech Philharmonic is Bychkov’s own so it should be better (the combo is recording a Mahler cycle for Pentatone) but I dared not expect too much.

During the first movement I kept on thinking to myself “quite good for a second-rated orchestra, better than Budapest” but I ended up placing this performance as the second best that I saw in this festival, just below Concertgwbouw/Chung in No.5. The playing time of 87 minutes (25-14 Scherzo-16 Andante-32) suggested a titanic performance but Bychkov always started swiftly and smoothly, thickening the textures and deepening the emotions without you realizing it.

In the first movement Bychkov distinguished the hard-hitting and tender moments with subtle changes in tempi and phrasing. The effect was natural and organic without sounding like an anomaly like in Maazel’s final cycle with Philharmonia (I saw his No.6 live in Paris). The scherzo, played as the 2nd movement, was simultaneously crisp, weighty and sonorous, and the three tempi were quite distinctive in their temperaments.

The Andante started smoothly and with subdued emotion, leading me to speculate that this would be a swiftly Andante à l’Abbado, instead of an Adagio. I’m OK with both approaches but Bychkov gradually thickened and deepened, the climax string sound had a real halo in the top register and there were hardly any unpleasant sounds.

To me, No.6’s finale is the best movement written by Mahler but most performances lost the momentum after the second hammer blow. Not with Bychkov and his Czech forces. The complex sound web was delivered clearly, loudly, brightly without undue pressure and rush. I liked very much the hammer blows that were hit more with gravity than muscle. The brass chords substituting the third blow were slashed very much like the grim reaper’s sickle. And Bychkov shaped the post-second-blow minutes as the true climax and showed us that it could be energetically done. To me, such a shattering Mahler 6 was a perfect summation of this Mahler Festival, my second live cycle, the first one being Boulez and Barenboim’s with the Staatskapelle Berlin at Carnegie Hall in 2009.


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