Frankfurt’s Alte Oper saw conductor Iván Fischer’s profound yet pathos-free interpretation of Gustav Mahler’s solemn Second Symphony. A Frankfurter Rundschau review.
A large orchestra with two gongs and two kettle drums instead of one, and an actual ‘distant ensemble’ (percussion and wind players keep rushing behind the stage), an enormous choir, and of course the organ. It is spectacular without aiming to be spectacular, and bombastic, although one would be hard-pressed to fault Mahler for it. Mahler takes his work completely seriously, as does Fischer, which makes everything tonight thoroughly compelling.
The heavy first movement begins with a certain complacency – however, the audience should and does realise that there is a world of difference between listening to Mahler’s symphonies at home and in the concert hall. The Budapest Festival Orchestra’s cellists virtually become a vibrating life force. The rocking Andante unravels itself devoid of irony – in general, Fischer basically never employs the grotesque – without any kind of ambiguity. Both the conducting and the orchestra’s progress is captivatingly straightforward. It strikes a path through the music at a reserved pace, but without becoming sentimental.
The members of the Czech Philharmonic Choir Brno slip through the tiny gaps between the players to the now jam-packed stage. This is the only lengthy, somewhat awkward break. Elisabeth Kulman and Christiane Karg find their places faster, causing less disturbance in the musical proceedings. Kulman’s mezzo-soprano is natural and powerful, and fits perfectly in the grand picture. It conveys the madness in the music altogether naturally. Karg remains seated at first, her soprano emerging tenderly from the choir that joined earlier. It is an enchanting luxury to hire a singer of such calibre to play this role.
The final movements, starting from Urlicht (Primal Light), become several stages of a single, swelling state of ecstasy, and an enormous and successful trial of concentration for the players. An absolutely out of place but fully understandable ovation followed the performance. After all, why should one hide their enthusiasm?