Last night I had the privilege of seeing the Vienna Philharmonic perform at Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa.
No offense to the original conductor, Daniele Gatti, who was forced to bow out due to an inflammation of a tendon in his shoulders (occupational hazard, I guess) . . . but I was pleased when I heard that the replacement conductor was going to be the great Lorin Maazel. Maazel is a world-renowned conductor who has led the Cleveland Orchestra, the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, and many other fine orchestras.
The program included Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony and Mahler’s Fourth Symphony.
Maazel took the first movement of the Schubert at a very, very slow pace — slower than any recording I can remember hearing by any orchestra. At this pace, Schubert sounded a little like Bruckner. I don’t know that the pace would have worked for a recording, but in a live performance, the unusual tempo worked. When the music hit a crescendo, hearing every note played (rather than a rush of violins) intensified the excitement. The slow pace did make the very occasional ragged entrance of a trumpet a bit more evident, and seemed to throw off one of the cello players at one point. But these were minor quibbles. The second movement was lovely and left the listener wondering why Schubert did not write more.
The Mahler was very well done. I’ve never been a huge Mahler fan, but I have always found the Fourth accessible. The piece is very thematically unified in ways both large and small, and there is even a hint in the first movement of the opening of the Fifth Symphony — evidently Mahler had all these ideas running through his head at the same time. The piece has three solo parts for the strings, and our excellent seats gave us a chance to watch the concertmaster play two violins, not at the same time! (one was tuned up a note) and the associate concertmaster who at times intertwined his solos beautifully with the concertmaster’s. The final movement is essentially a song, which was sung by soprano Juliane Banse. As she sang of “The Heavenly Life,” a blogger ruminated on his own good fortune in having a rare opportunity to see a world-class orchestra and conductor in his little neck of the woods.