By Robert D. Thomas
Southern California News Group
Los Angeles Philharmonic; Gustavo Dudamel, conducting
Schubert: Symphony No. 3 and No. 4.
Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder; Matthias Goerne, baritone, soloist
Walt Disney Concert Hall; Los Angeles
Next performances: May 12 and 13 at 8 p.m.
When the Los Angeles Philharmonic announced that it would play all eight of Schubert’s published symphonies over a two-week cycle this month — two symphonies paired with a Mahler song cycle in each concert — I wondered how the Schubert works, particularly his early efforts, would fare against the better-known Mahler groupings. I should have had more faith in Gustavo Dudamel.
As is often the case, I have underestimated the Phil’s music and artistic director, who has — with the orchestra playing beautifully — made each of the first four symphonies both a jewel and a perfect complement to the Mahler song cycles.
The angst emanating from Dudamel’s release of a letter imploring Venezuela’s government to find a way to end the violence in his native country seemed to have dissipated by last night at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Unlike last week, Dudamel was his normally animated, fully involved self on the podium last night, conducting the Schubert symphonies, which — as last week — he led from memory, with easy assurance.
Symphony No. 3 in D Major, D. 200 showed how Schubert was continuing to evolve as a composer even beyond his first two efforts. Written in 1815, when Schubert was age 18, the work continues to show the influences of Haydn and Mozart, but also of Beethoven — who was writing his seventh and eighth symphonies at the same time — and also of Rossini.
Like his first two symphonies, Schubert continues to spotlight the wind sections in this sunny work, which plays to the Phil’s strengths, with particular kudos to Principal Clarinet Boris Allakhverdyan and Associate Principal Flute Catherine Ransom Karoly.
Baritone Matthias Goerne was the soloist in Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder (extra points if you can name the television show in which this work was featured — answer below). Although the part was sung by a contralto when the Phil first played the work in 1942, Dudamel gets plaudits for programming Goerne to sing these “Songs on the Death of Children,” while choosing mezzo-sopranos to sing the other three cycles during this series.
Goerne brought extreme gravitas to the texts by Friederich Rückert, floating higher pianissimos lovingly while delivering deeply impassioned pathos in the lower parts, although his penchant for stooping and wandering around the podium was occasionally disconcerting. Dudamel and the Phil offered rich accompaniment and the final measures were so mesmerizing as to have the audience wait for nearly a minute after the final notes faded before Dudamel relaxed his arms and applause rained down on the performers.
Schubert’s Symphony No. 4 was his first to be written in a minor key (C minor, the same as Beethoven’s fifth); not until his eighth symphony would Schubert return to a minor key. Although Schubert appended the title, “Tragic,” to the work, there’s little of that word in the music. In this music, Schubert moves beyond his early symphonies to a style that is more fully developed. Dudamel and the Phil made the work sparkle with Viennese grace.
• I don’t normally attend Thursday concerts because the church choir in which I sing practices that night, but with a couple of weeks off I got to hear this Thursday performance. Compared to weekend audiences, last night’s crowd was quite a bit more raucous but Dudamel took it all in stride, even giving a brief fist pump to the shouts after the first movement of Schubert’s Symphony No. 4.
• On May 18 and 19, Dudamel will lead Schubert’s fifth and sixth symphonies with Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder, with mezzo-soprano Elīna Garanča as soloist. The series concludes on May 20 and 21 with Schubert’s best-known symphonies, Nos. 8 (“Unfinished”) and 9 (“The Great C-Major”), with Garanča soloing in Mahler’s Songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn on both concerts. Information on all of these is at www.laphil.com
• Answer to the question above: Kindertotenlieder appeared “Friends and Enemies,” an episode in the last season of M*A*S*H.
(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.