Miami Symphony not ready for its Mahler close-up
The Miami Symphony Orchestra played music of late-19th-century Vienna Sunday night at the New World Center in Miami Beach. Path-breaking scores by Arnold Schoenberg and Gustav Mahler were a formidable test of the ensemble’s resources. Unfortunately, the resulting performances were uneven at best.
Schoenberg’s Verklarte Nacht (Transfigured Night) is one of the final masterpieces from the twilight of romanticism, a searing, densely chromatic portrait of tempest-tossed passions. Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde deeply influenced Schoenberg’s work in which harmony and tonality are stretched to the breaking point. The score was originally conceived for string sextet with Schoenberg later producing an arrangement for string orchestra.
With concertmaster Daniel Andai leading from the first chair, six members of the Miami Symphony’s string section bravely attempted Schoenberg’s original sextet version. The work requires a level of precision and musicianship that seemed beyond the players’ reach. The performance veered from exaggerated to sluggish, lacking a clear sense of line and pulse. The ensemble was unbalanced with the two cellos often too loud and prominent. Persistent intonation problems plagued the performance, and even Andai, usually a solid player, seemed to be struggling.
Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 is a massive score that really demands a virtuoso orchestra. Conductor Eduardo Marturet clearly had rehearsed the symphony carefully and the enlarged ensemble made a strong effort at surmounting this difficult music.
Still, Sunday’s performance was less than satisfactory. Marturet showed little affinity for Mahler’s idiom, adopting fast, hard-driving tempos, projecting neither the angst nor the sunny Alpine vistas of Mahler’s visionary score. Despite the lilt of the Landler dance in the second movement, his interpretation seemed too generalized. The irony of the funeral march was missing and the finale was rather tame and fleet, lacking a sense of struggle.
The string section, long the orchestra’s strongest asset, was too small for this work, sometimes overwhelmed by the extra winds and brass. With eight horns placed on the left side of the stage, in front of the harp, balances went awry. Persistent burbles in the horns and trumpets were all too clear in the hall’s live acoustics.
To be sure, there were fine individual moments. Much of the mystery of the symphony’s opening pages was well conveyed through the bird calls of the fine solo oboe over soft, eerie strings. In the funeral march, the bass solo was vivid and precise and the klezmer band episode well articulated by enthusiastic trumpets and clarinets.
Although the reprise of Mahler’s nature painting by harp and strings was beautifully done, there were passages in the finale where the orchestra was scrambling to stay together. Ultimately, even with the Miami Symphony’s improvement over recent seasons, Mahler’s symphonic canvas still seems too high a mountain to climb for this ensemble.
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Mon Apr 2, 2012
at 10:48 am