Saturday, February 18, 2012

Dudamel conducts Mahler Eighth from Caracas on Fathom

Today, Fathom broadcast a live performance from Caracas, Venezuela, of the Mahler Symphony #8 in E-flat, the “Symphony of a Thousand”.  I saw it at a Regal in Arlington.

Gustavo Dudamel (link for this event) conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Simon Bolivar Orchestra, and choruses from Los Angeles and Caracas. 

The performance was preceded by a 40 minute presentation by John Lithgow, of the Caracas Youth Orchestra, and of Dudamel’s explanation of the work.  The actual performance started at 6 PM, after an intermission, and lasted about 70 minutes.  Fathom showed the words of the text in both parts.

In the first movement, Dudamel did not slow down right before the majestic beginning of the Recapitulation, the way Bernstein and other conductors have.  I think it needs that moment to be drawn out.

The second part, as is well known, presents a setting from Geothe’s Faust, a closing scene where Faust does not appear but where other characters make the case for his salvation.  Dudamel explains this “oratorio” aspect, but insists that this work is still a symphony, not an oratorio or opera without words. 

The Latin text of the first movement, by comparison, seems a bit “collectivist” when displayed on the screen. But the libretto in Part II gets into the dual nature of man (soul and body), mentions the role of angels, and even suggests that children are raised in Heaven, before the final chorus about “The Eternal Feminine” (yes, the Polarities).

Dudamel did a straightforward reading of the “Intermezzo”, orchestra only for about 15 minutes, that opens Part II, without making it sound ponderous.  That section introduces the choral theme that will end the work.  Then when the vocal parts from the Faust drama appear, themes and motives from the First Movement come back in for another development section (relative to part 1).

The final closing is thrilling indeed, even given Dudamel’s straightforward approach.

It appeared that the chorus must have numbered about 1800 members (about 60 per row times 30 in one mass).  There is a piano part which is not played on a grand, but a spinet, and has a rather bell like sound. 

The event started at 5 PM EST, about an hour after Whitney Houston's televised memorial service had ended.  By chance, the whole concert came across as a fitting memorial event on its own.

Picture: Near the Regal cinema -- Donnie Darko's rabbit?

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