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'Music with Mahler - Chronicler of his Time': Konzerthausorchester Berlin/Eliahu Inbal Jörg Gudzuhn (narrator) Konzerthaus, Berlin 4.9.2010(MC)

Oskar Fried Die Auswanderer (The Emigrants) melodrama for speaker and large orchestra (1912) - text by Emile Verhaeren translated into German by StefanZweig.

Dmitri Shostakovich
- Symphony No. 4 in C minor, op. 43 (1935/6)

This concert was part of a series focusing on the music of Mahler but containing none of Mahler’s music. The 2010/11 concert season at the Konzerthaus, Berlin is marking the centenary of Mahler's birth and the half centenary of his death with a triple series of concerts titled Music with Mahler - Chronicler of his Time focusing on Mahler’s music and the era in which he worked. Oskar Fried was a friend of Mahler who conducted and recorded his works and, from a later generation, Shostakovich studied and was highly influenced by the music of Mahler.

Israeli born conductor Eliahu Inbal has considerable experience of working with huge orchestral forces as demonstrated by his celebrated recorded cycles of Mahler, Bruckner, Schumann and Berlioz with the Frankfurt RSO in the 1980/90s for Denon. A past principal conductor of the Konzerthausorchester, Berlin, Maestro Inbal is currently the chief conductor of both the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. This concert was the third of three performances of the same programme from the Konzerthausorchester conducted by Inbal over three days. Incidentally, on the afternoon of the concert I also interviewed Maestro Inbal, the text of which will be published on
Seen and Heard in the next few days.

Oskar Fried’s recently unearthed Die Auswanderer (The Emigrants) a melodrama for speaker and large orchestra opened the concert. The text is from a collection of poetry Les campagnes hallucinatés by Emile Verhaeren translated into German by Stefan Zweig. Remembered today as a conductor, I would guess that Oscar Fried as a composer is all but forgotten except to a handful of musicologists. After the rise of the Nazis in Germany, Fried a Jew, had to leave for his own safety. Unlike the vast majority of émigrés who went west, Fried with his left-wing views felt compelled to move to Russia a country he knew well, settling in Moscow in 1934.

Fried first met Mahler in 1901 at Vienna and soon became a disciple of the great composer. The première of his composition to Nietzsche’s text
Das trunkene Lied (The drunken song) brought Fried overnight acclaim. A favoured conductor of Mahler, Fried was entrusted with making the first recording the Symphony No.2Resurrection’ in 1924, the first recording of a Mahler symphony.

Hindered by my lack of German, I have found out only a little about Fried’s curious melodrama
Die Auswanderer (The Emigrants although, I believe the score is one that has only recently been discovered. Die Auswanderer is an appealing musical experience which uses the narrator for a large part of its length. Harrowing and expressionistic in its depiction of displaced peasants trudging on foot with stoic resignation, pulling carts full of their ragged belongings towards a city of dark foreboding. This predominately bleak and emotional text was delivered by narrator Jörg Gudzuhn with considerable passion and expression, and according to some German friends , with superb diction too. Not surprisingly Gudzuhn looked and sounded as if he was running out of breath by the end of this demanding work. Fried’s music has a reasonably original sound with some noticeable influences from Mahler and maybe even shades of Debussy discernible at times. In a beautiful dramatic account, Maestro Inbal provided a hauntingly evocative atmosphere of a mainly dark hued colouring with the heavy tread of fearful tension. I cherished the brief glimpse of sunlit shafts of optimism in the music. Throughout Inbal maintained an assured grip on the music’s flow yet when necessary was liberal with his dynamics.

Shostakovich was right to withdraw his
Symphony No. 4 in C minor at the last minute in 1936 since Stalin, who wanted popularist music to celebrate the traditions of the Soviet culture, would have hated it. At the rehearsals the players who were to première the Symphony in Leningrad were unhappy with the score too. It was over a quarter of a century later before the score, now revised, was finally given its première in 1961 in Moscow. Well over an hour long and requiring a massive orchestra with a large battery of percussion, this three movement score of unusually disproportioned design is still often overlooked by present day conductors.

Maestro Inbal is no stranger to this symphony and I have fond memories of his celebrated 1973 recording with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra on Denon.
Throughout this lengthy and demanding work Inbal’s assured direction of the large forces of the Konzerthausorchester was a masterful achievement. Especially impressive was his obvious command of Shostakovich’s immense orchestral structures and his interpretation was memorable for its dramatic sweep and emotional intensity. Anguished and baleful, dark and brooding in Inbal’s direct and highly charged reading one could feel such a wide variety of emotional colours. The Konzerthausorchester are an excellent group of players who responded splendidly with rugged conviction, power and a glorious richness of sound to this strongly characterised interpretation from a conductor that they know so well.

Amid the control of the massive symphonic structure Inbal used plenty of fine detailing. In the first movement
Allegro poco moderato the playing of the tense and powerfully impulsive fugal section, especially the stinging strings playing Presto, was remarkable. The opening pages of the Finale. Largo - Allegro a Mahlerian influenced funeral march evoked a gripping and grotesque picture. The Berlin woodwind were quite superb as were the gnawing strings and biting brass that enter the march in turn. From the third section of the Finale reminiscent of a Viennese waltz in the spirit of Mahler, the rhythms were underlined splendidly.

With this programme of music by Fried and Shostakovich, Maestro Inbal produced not simply a memorable performance of integrity and assurance but a moving and often shattering experience for the appreciative audience.

Michael Cookson

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