Tom Strini

MSO’s amazing Mahler 7, plus Kalichstein’s Beethoven

By - Oct 1st, 2010 05:28 pm

Gustav Mahler

Hearing Mahler’s epic Symphony No. 7 Friday was like walking across a continent — if Oz were that continent.

Mahler piled wonder atop wonder in his his Seventh. The music challenged conductor Edo de Waart and an expanded Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra to take none of those wonders for granted. They did not; high energy and acute awareness informed this reading, in which conductor and players remarked on every bizarre turn of events, sharply delineated gestures and fully saturated the colors of those gestures.

Mahler here comments on the nature of the fanfare, the march, the waltz, the aria, the pastorale. He introduces each denomination in the common musical currency of his day with nearly Classical clarity, then proceeds to develop them beyond overripe decadence and into the realm of the surreal. You could hear well-known forms warp like so many Dali clocks and then overlap and blend in dizzying ways.

The sweet Viennese waltz in the scherzo veers off into a bone-clanking danse macabre. The 23-minute first movement opens with a dark, low rustling that congeals into a march that rises to a gallop that gives way to a glamorous, ardent second theme. In the Nachtmusik, the growl and twitter of the nocturnal forest surrounds a main theme driven by a bass line at a hurried hiker’s pace. (The forest is beautiful in the moonlight, but it also sends a shiver down our spines. We keep moving.) A sweet, intimate interlude gives respite before the finale, a whiplash ride of abrupt shifts of mood and material (a blazing fanfare, a squirming second theme made of shakes and tremolos, a chattering third subject).

Occasional disorientation is all part of listening to this piece, but de Waart knew where Mahler was going. He aimed the whole 80 minutes of it to the final moments; after a dazzling, bewildering, exhilarating journey, we arrived at transcendent closure.

That would have been plenty for one program, but there’s more.

Joseph Kalichstein

Pianist Joseph Kalichstein joined de Waart and the orchestra in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2. Everyone agreed on this premise: This concerto is about the difference between Classical poise and Romantic complexity and ardor. Kalichstein and the orchestra delivered that, starting with the easy, pliant grace of the first statement of the first theme and its immediate rise to fiery intensity. Hearing this performance was like getting to know someone who is all elegance and manners on the outside and all demons within.

This matinee program, given Friday at Marcus Center Uihlein Hall, will be repeated at 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct.  2. Click here for links and ticket information.

0 thoughts on “Review: MSO’s amazing Mahler 7, plus Kalichstein’s Beethoven”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Best Mahler I’ve heard so far…

  2. Anonymous says:

    this review conjures up so many visuals… nicely written.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Tom’s perspective on the surreal character of this diverse collection of moods and themes is right on target.

    It was different to hear a Mahler symphony without a “conceit”. Personal laments, heroes, funerals, Mahler’s vision of salvation, even a universal declaration of the meaning of it all both enhance and detract from listening to other Mahler symphonies. I rather like the pretense in Mahler’s other work. But this is a grand symphony as well.

    A few quick other observations:
    The constantly irregular, lurching rhythms of the third movement were unique. I have a recording that smooths out the sound, but Edo kept all of the rough edges – leaving me to marvel at how the orchestra made it through the section so casually.
    The fourth movement reduces the number of instruments for a gentler approach. A key element is quiet sections pairing mandolin or guitar with one or a few winds. The less than ideal acoustics of the hall served the mandolin, but the guitar was often lost in the loge seats.

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