EIF 16: Gustav Mahler Orchestra Impresses Despite Leaden Conducting





United KingdomUnited Kingdom Wagner, Mahler: Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra, Daniele Gatti (conductor), Usher Hall, 24.8.2012. (SRT)

Wagner: Act 3 Prelude and Good Friday Music from Parsifal
Mahler: Symphony No. 7

Photo credit Cosimo Filippini

One great orchestra in a festival is a treat: two in two nights is a luxury. After last night’s appearance by the EU Youth Orchestra, tonight we were treated to the, if anything, even finer players of the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra. Their blurb claims that “it is regarded as the world’s leading youth orchestra”, and I heard nothing tonight to make me disagree.

Their playing of the Parsifal extract would put many an adult orchestra to shame, especially the rich string tone, so important to the sound world of this opera. The violas and cellos were particularly characterful but they were led by persuasive, eloquent violins that crested the melodies with all the care-laden heaviness that the composer requires. The silky, legato winds spun Wagner’s lines with mellifluous ease, and a remarkably mature brass sound completed a very holistic and impressive orchestral palate.

Indeed, it was the brass that impressed most at the opening of the Mahler too. That theme for trombones and tenor horn that opens the first movement rang out with such confidence that it made the scalp prickle, and the entire symphony seemed grounded on a bedrock of exemplary brass playing from the entire section. The playing from everyone was of demonstration quality throughout the whole symphony, with some knockout solos in the two Nachtmusik movements and a sense of cumulative power in the tuttis that was very exciting.

What a shame that they were hamstrung by a reading of leaden deadweight from Daniele Gatti! He was persuasive enough in the three middle movements, but his speeds in the crucial outer movements were slow to the point of distraction. His tempo for the main Allegro of the first movement was nowhere near energetic enough, thereby failing to distinguish it sufficiently from the Langsam introduction and giving him nowhere to relax into when he got to the second subject. The shimmering interlude, while magnificently played, almost ground to a halt, and the same problem afflicted the finale which never took off in the way it should. While his sensational young players seemed ready to head for the stratosphere, Gatti seemed determined to keep the whole movement firmly earthbound and he never let go of the leash enough, thus crippling the movement’s bristling energy. In the snap of the final chord he let go of his baton and sent it flying into the ranks of the double basses: the sad thing was that that was the most interesting thing he had done for the preceding 15 minutes!

The Edinburgh International Festival runs until Sunday 2nd September at a range of venues across the city. A selection of performances will be reviewed in these pages. For full details go to www.eif.co.uk

Simon Thompson