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The Rarest Mahler

New York
Avery Fisher Hall, Carnegie Hall
04/13/2008 -  
Jean Sibelius: The Dryad
Robert Schumann: Piano Concerto in A minor-Opus 54
Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 1 in D Major (“The Titan”)

Lars Vogt (Piano)
Minnesota Orchestra, Osmo Vänskä (Conductor)

By far, the most interesting piece on yesterday’s concert was the least interesting music. Specifically, the original second movement of Mahler’s First Symphony. Expecting “full sail” scherzo, we heard something quite different: a kind of trumpeter’s lullaby. At first, it sounded like the post horn solo from the Third Symphony, but hardly as interesting. While beautifully played by Manny Laureano, the one variation with a few orchestral chords was pedestrian. And by the time of the surprise movement, conductor Vänskä went onto what is usually the second movement.

For Mahler addicts, this short interlude was the “Blumine” or “flowering” movement, which Mahler had in the first performance. It was then omitted by the composer and supposedly lost. Later, the music was rediscovered, as a slight reworking of scene he wrote for a drama. Exactly why Mahler eliminated, it is unknown, but probably because it really has nothing to do with the music of his “Titan” Symphony at all.

While hearing this gives Mahler addicts a sort of one-upmanship, it didn’t have the velocity which the Minnesota Orchestra gave to the symphony as a whole. Their Finnish conductor, Osmo Vänskä, isn’t as well-known as his colleague in America, Esa-Pekka Salonen, but the latter appeals to younger West Coast audiences with his forward-looking programs and compositions. Vänskä, though, is just as sturdy a musician, and he led a fine orchestra.

The Minnesota Orchestra is now more than a century old, and has enjoyed some of the finest music directors, including Ormandy, Dorati and above all, Dimitri Mitropoulos. The result is an ensemble of great color and verve. It lacks the electrifying coordination of, say, the New York Phil., but at times, such as the opening of Sibelius’ work, this is an advantage.

The Mahler, though, was a pleasure. The early-morning silence was virtually painted, the harmonized horns played with hardly an error, and the coda burst forth wonderfully. Neither of the middle movements came near to exaggeration, alas. The landler of the scherzo was light, and the third movement lacked the nearly broad burlesque of a village funeral (the clarinet should come near to Klezmer sound). But the finale was ferocious and broad. True, when the horns all stood up for the last measures, it was more like a University of Minnesota marching band, but they did their part.

The aforesaid Sibelius Dryad, like the Mahler second movement, is rarely heard. Too bad, since this quasi impressionistic piece is unique. It is also over just when it begins to get interesting.

Finally the oft-played Schumann Concerto. The young German pianist Lars Vogt gave a crystalline performance. It wasn’t the most energetic or dynamic. But the sheer rhapsody of his playing would make any reviewer close their notebook, put away their pen and listen to the poetry. I believe he is giving a recital later this year, and that should be a highlight for any concert season.

The Minnesota Orchestra’s website

Harry Rolnick



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