Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Symphony no. 2 Resurrection [90:08]
A Portrait of Mariss Jansons : Music Is the Language of the Heart and Soul
A film by Robert Neumüller [51:37]
Ricarda Merbeth (soprano); Bernarda Fink (mezzo);
Netherlands Radio Choir; Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Mariss Jansons
rec. live, Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, 3 December 2009
Booklet: English, German, French
Picture: NTSC, 16:9
Audio: PCM Stereo and DTS 5.1
Region Code: 0 (worldwide)
Subtitles: German, English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Korean
UNITEL CLASSICA DVD 709708 [51:37 + 90:08]
Recently released, this two-disc set consists of a documentary about the conductor Mariss Jansons. There’s also a recent Jansons performance of Mahler’s Second Symphony from the Concertgebouw.
Jansons is a familiar presence at the podium as well as on recordings. Robert Neumuller’s documentary offers a vivid portrait of the conductor. Illustrated with historic images from Janson’s childhood, youth, and early career, the documentary also benefits from the firsthand account by the conductor himself. The German-language interview is supported with subtitles in English, French, Spanish, Chinese and Korean. Jansons’ account of his life includes his experience in Soviet Latvia, along with memoirs of growing up in a musical family. Jansons’ father was a conductor, whose work inspired his son to pursue a career in music. It is useful to hear the son’s perspectives on his father’s achievements. Jansons also discusses his early career, and the excerpts included in the documentary give evidence of his talent. Yet this documentary also offers some insights into Jansons’ artistic temperament, which support the music which he interprets so well.
A case in point is the bonus disc included with the documentary, a live performance of Mahler’s Second. This recording merits attention as a solid contribution to the discography of the work. Jansons captures the style of the work from the start, with a dramatically charged interpretation of the opening funeral march. The rich, full sound gives a sense of what Jansons can elicit from the Concertgebouw Orchestra, with the winds and brass playing off the well-balanced core in the strings. Of the strings, the incisive cellos are key to the interpretation, with the articulation clear and biting. The horn passages have an appropriate ring and the trumpet fanfares fit well into Jansons’ conception. The funeral march and idyllic reverie are juxtaposed with appropriate contrast. Details in some of the figuration and other elements are audible in this well-recorded concert. Dramatic tension is sustained throughout. Jansons sets the conclusion effectively which echoes the opening musical gesture of Mahler’s earlier cantata Das klagende Lied.
In paying respect to Mahler’s instruction at the end of the first movement, Jansons allows for a pause. Yet it is broken by the entrance of the soloists, whom the audience greet with warm applause. This momentarily detracts from the mood but it resumes when the piece resumes in a lyrical interpretation of the second movement. Here the Concertgebouw’s cohesive strings are at the forefront, as they respond to Jansons’ direction and follow him to the conclusion. A similar coherence is evident in the Scherzo, in which Jansons shapes the phrases with an ear toward the song that Mahler used as its basis, Des Antonius von Paduas Fischpredigt. (“St. Anthony’s Sermon to the Fish”). In the trio, Jansons gives fine shape to the quotation from the Scherzo of Hans Rott’s Symphony in E, a piece Mahler once planned to perform. With the reprise of the Scherzo in the final portion of the movement, the dramatic intensity Jansons achieves in the first movement is evident, as the thematic fragments in the brass are present, but not overstated.
The fourth movement shifts appropriately to Bernarda Fink singing from behind the orchestra. Fink’s effortless Urlicht is soulful and touching. The video focuses on the singer with the camera angle conveying a sense of intimacy. This focus shifts with the Finale, as the camera pulls back to encompass the entire stage for the opening of the last movement. Its dramatic outburst sets the tone visually for the music that follows. In this movement, as in the rest of the performance, Jansons’ command is evident. He shapes the score with sensitivity to the various degrees of dynamic and textural nuance. The images of the off-stage players give physical documentation of the sometimes disembodied sounds, a detail that adds to the production qualities.
With the choral passages that follow, the close-ups of Jansons show his involvement with bringing out the text as he mouths the words. This is reflected in the attentive faces of the chorus who perform from memory. The absence of folders and choral scores contributes to the intensity. This aspect and other elements reinforce the focus on the musical interpretation. Ricarda Merbeth’s fine tone in the solo passages is nicely matched by Fink in the duet that follows and later the mezzo solo “O glaube! Mein Herz, o glaube”, leading into the final duet with Merbeth. That section leads well into the choral Finale at the culmination, with the contrapuntal setting of Klopstock’s Auferstehung sung intensely by the Netherlands Radio Choir. This is an outstanding performance.
The visual aspects of the DVD fit the music, with crisp images, realistic color and well-thought videography. The close-ups of individual players or sections are not random, and the lighting fits well into the entire effort. The camera angles from various parts of the hall give a sense of the physical space, a detail that contributes to the overall effect. Video director Joost Honselaar deserves credit for fine imagery. It makes for a tribute to Jansons work, which is celebrated appropriately in this release.
James L. Zychowicz
A revealing documentary matched with a dramatically charged interpretation of Mahler 2.