Gerard Hoffnung CDs
Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Symphony No. 9 (1909/10) [72:09]
Symphony Orchestra of Moscow Radio/Vladimir Fedosseyev
rec. live, Grand Hall of the Moscow Conservatory, 5-7 December
RELIEF CR991072 [72:09]
Fedosseyev - whose name usually appears transliterated with
a single "s", in case you're confused - has sometimes
been tagged as, basically, a successful Communist Party hack.
Certainly his humdrum, vaguely careless run-throughs of Tchaikovsky
symphonies and Russian "pops", in the early-digital,
late-Soviet era, afforded little reason to dispute that characterization.
the Mahler Ninth brings the best out of Russian conductors.
Kiril Kondrashin's recording (issued on Melodiya/Seraphim LPs,
Stateside) was respected if not quite beloved, while Yevgeny
Svetlanov's (Saison Russe/Le Chant du Monde) was one of the
few bright spots of his mostly coarse, uncomprehending cycle.
Now it has drawn the best work I've yet heard from Fedosseyev.
If the performance ultimately founders - largely because of
a penchant for briskness - it nonetheless scores some incidental
points along the way.
start of the performance - recorded in concert, or perhaps
in several concerts - sets the tone for what will follow: from
the sound of it, Fedosseyev tersely acknowledges the applause,
turns to the orchestra, and immediately gives the downbeat.
The opening fragments are clearly defined, reasonably piano at
a no-nonsense tempo. Of course, Mahler knew what he was about
- only the main theme's arrival establishes an audible pulse
for the rhythmically displaced motifs - and the conductor can
hardly be faulted for allowing the built-in effect simply to
doesn't attempt to wring sentiment from the first theme, preferring
a longer view. The climactic fanfares blaze with all the heady
vigor of the composer's First Symphony; the straightforward
pace brings out an unexpected dance feel - at 4:49, for example,
a sort of lopsided waltz briefly emerges - and the rhythm remains
solidly grounded as the music hurtles forward (5:32 and following).
The arrival of the big moments - the climax at 10:13, the false
recapitulation at 14:30, and the real one at 18:04 - is perhaps
too matter-of-fact; they're not always set up as one might
like. On the other hand, the conductor knits the increasingly
knotty strands of string counterpoint into cogent, clear-toned
sense: compare Levine (Oehms), who allows the moving parts
to interfere with the principal themes; or Masur (Teldec),
whose New York Philharmonic strings, at a comparably propulsive
tempo, sound comparatively diffuse. After the final anguished tutti outburst,
the bare, angular textures beginning at 19:39 are stark and
desolate; a certain severity, only briefly leavened by tender
lyricism, dominates the closing minutes.
the other movements, problematic tempos and tempo relationships
compromise the conductor's musical impulses, despite mostly
fine execution. The Ländler's opening theme is brisk
to the point of skittishness - listen to the bassoon pickups
- but the "in 1" pulse infuses a measure of buoyancy
into the peasant-dance step, with the horn trills registering
nicely. But the second theme, marked Poco più mosso subito,
is only marginally faster - the first tempo didn't leave room
for much more, after all. The speed as such is fine, but, given
the longer notes, the motion feels like it's getting slower,
which can't be right. There is, again, a dance-like lilt when
the low brasses take up this theme at 3:16, and Tempo III is
relaxed, the rhythms gently pointed.
bracing but not rushed, begins strongly. The strings dig into
their angular lines with a big, buzzy resonance and lots of
gusto; the woodwinds are bright and sassy; the brass interjections
are full-throated. But Fedosseyev, like Svetlanov, maintains
the same basic tempo into the lyric interlude, all but ignoring
the indicated Etwas gehalten; the result, especially
with the notes in the turns so insistently detached, is prosaic
- only at 6:49 does any tenderness or repose come in.
moves the Finale at a 4-to-the-bar Andante rather than
the customary 8-to-the-bar Adagio. The opening pages
sing with dignity, with the well-balanced string sonority casting
the slightly "open" solo horn into sharp relief.
But such a forward pace and melodically-based approach, more
characteristically Slavic than Germanic, predictably causes
some details to misfire. The contrabassoon at 3:21 sounds uncomfortable "speaking",
and the second violins can't make sense of the portandos at
16:17. The surprise is how much expression the conductor still
manages to draw from the details. The mysterious spareness
at 3:30 and 10:02; the fragile sweetness at 8:04 and the woodwinds'
melting color change shortly thereafter; the yearning horn
solo at 14:05 - all are superbly realized. Towards the end
of the movement, fatigue sets in - witness the principal trombone's "clam" at
14:37 and the tentative, sometimes blurry string playing in
the quiet closing pages - though the audience was clearly appreciative
surprise is that the orchestral sound, for better and worse,
isn't particularly "Russian". The string tone is
lean, lacking the heavy-syrup vibrancy of yore - a casualty
of post-Communist emigration, perhaps - but accurate tuning
certainly helps clarify the contrapuntal bits. The horns are
oddly sour at 10:17 of the first movement, and a single cellist
enters a beat early at 12:46 of the Ländler. Against
these passing flaws, muted trombones snarl with firm, weighted
tone at 12:49 in the first movement and elsewhere, high clarinet
solos are superbly controlled, and timpani are crisp and focused.
The ensemble sound is polished - far more so than that of Svetlanov's
Russian State Symphony - and full-throated in tutti;
discipline is excellent until fatigue sets in.
can't recommend this as a first - or only – Ninth. It strays
too far from the score's prescriptions to represent it properly.
Still, it's well worth a hearing - not least as a document
of how styles of playing and interpretation are changing in
the former Soviet bloc - and it's persuasive on its own terms.
Stephen Francis Vasta
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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