Sunday, February 20, 2011

REVIEW: De Waart’s Mahler 6 with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra

Cultural Centre Concert Hall, Saturday February 20

In celebration of the centenary of the death of Gustav Mahler, the HKPO brought the tragic 6th, which uses the biggest orchestra he ever employed. The tragic ending of the 6th has been seen as a surprise given that it was composed at what was seemingly (or should be) the happier moment in Mahler’s life. Mahler had married Alma Schindler in 1902 (the 6th was composed between 1903 to 1904), and his second daughter was born during the course of the piece’s composition.

According to Alma Mahler, the 6th is about Mahler’s life, BUT not only about what had happened, but also about what will happen. Apparently, Mahler was so horrified by his musical vision during the dress rehearsal of the piece that he sobbed uncontrollably at the backstage. In fact, so horrified that one of the three hammer-blows was removed and not performed, so as not to tempt fate.

With such an explosively emotional piece, a conductor may choose to provide a drama or melodrama, appeal for emotional bleakness or emotional blackmail. I for one prefer a more restrained performance free from overkill sentiments, as it usually comes across more honest and less manipulative. Gladly, that was what Edo de Waart provided in this full-house concert. The playing was remarkably unflashy which brought through the clarity needed to translate the personal despair coherently put down in music.

To be very honest, my friends and I are not exactly Mahler’s greatest fans. In fact, a few of us were bitching about Mahler and the 6th prior to the concert… well, by the time the final bars erupt fff, we were exchanging culpable looks. As for me, this is the best Mahler I have ever heard from HKPO.

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