Sunday, 19 February 2017

Prostitutes, chamber music and recording

Traditional Chinese singing girls, who used to make music in teahouses, brothels, etc. But look ! A gramophone player ! This would date the photo to the first decade of the 20th century, when  such things were still such a novelty that people would pay to listen to sound coming from a machine.  So these enterprising girls found a way to draw the punters while giving themselves a break from singing and playing.  Recording technology came early to China. There are quite a few cylinders of Beijing opera stars singing popular arias.  From the style of their clothing, (unusually high collars) these girls come from North China. Their feet are tiny - possibly the result of footbinding that fell out of favour after the 1911 revolution.  Generally footbinding was a middle class thing,  which suggests that these girls were "bought" as infants in order to be trained as prostitutes. (though "prostitution" in that context was a mix of different services, like geishas don't just do sex)

The recording below is a Gaisberg cylinder from 1902, in Cantonese dialect, but there exist Beijing-made recordings from 1905-1908 made for the Chinese market

Friday, 17 February 2017

Britten and Pears in Hong Kong

The Empire Theatre in Hong Kong, where Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears did a gig on 3rd February 1956. The programme included songs by Dowland, Purcell and Schubert, and Britten's Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo, plus Britten's folk song arrangements.  On the 6th, the Governor of Hong Kong, Sir Alexander Grantham, invited Britten and his party to,lunch at Government House. In the afternoon, Britten and Pears visited the studios of Radio Hong Kong, where they were inteviewed and gave a short recital,which was recorded, and is available below.

On the 7th February, they gave another recital featuring Schumann Dichterliebe "in the private house of a curious man" as Britten wrote the following day to a friend. Britten's friend and travel companion, Prince Ludwig of Hesse, wrote about the concert "at the unpleasant finance manager's home. The clever and really very nice governor and his petite wife were also there. One cannot get rid of the feeling that the sinister nabob had harnessed famous English artists and  foreign royalty in order to lure the important governor into his den"  Somewhat bitchy, perhaps ?  Grantham was not a particularly pleasant man, but the visitors weren't in a position to judge the local situation.  There's no indication who the"finance manager" was, whether he was a government official, a businessman or even British.  That might be relevant.  Since Britten and his party spent much of their time in Hong Kong in the company of the governor, it's possible that they would have been influenced by his views.  Colonial society was, to put it mildly, "stratified".

The Empire Theatre, built in 1952, was built to state of the art standards, with  huge steel buttresses, (see pic above) and decorated in Shanghai art deco style.  The owner was Harry OIdell, the local impressario, who had himself come from Shanghai.  In 1957, the Empire was closed and re-opened as the State Theatre which became a Hong Kong landmark.  Recently, it was shortlisted as a heritage site for preservation.

Please also see my piece on Britten and Pears in Macau

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Winterreise : a parallel journey

Matthew Rose and Gary Matthewman Winterreise: a Parallel Journey at the Wigmore Hall, a recital with extras.  Schubert's winter journey reflects the poetry of Wilhelm Müller, where images act as signposts mapping the  protagonist's  psychological journey.  Pathetic fallacy, through art, articulates complex emotions.  Often there is more truth in poetry than in straightforward prose.  Each image stimulates a response from the protagonist: visuals are so integral to this cycle that it's perfectly reasonable that Winterreise has inspired so many different presentations.  As we listen, we reaffirm  the connection between Nature and art.

Matthew Rose's recording of Schubert Winterreise for Stone Records in 2012 is greatly admired. The authority in Rose's bass added savage grandeur, evoking the idea of a grand soul, brought down by fate.  His Schwanengesang, also from Stone Records, is also rewarding. Live performance is subject to so many factors. A singer's instrument is his body, subject to the vicissitudes of life.  So no single performance is be-all and end-all.  Even though there were technical problems in the delivery, Rose is never boring. He's a born communicator, and those who know his voice and work hear things in context.  Gary Matthewman gave Rose sensitive support. Winterreise is so well known that iy can be a pleasure to follow the pianist. Very accomplished playing, with many good moments. Matthewman's pedalling let the piano sing. At the end of "Der Leiermann", the reverberations of the piano lingered, haunting, in the silence. A wonderful image, so true to meaning.

Because Winterreise lends itself so well to imagery, there have been numerous  performances where visuals have added to impact.  Some have been works of art in themselves, enhancing understanding and opening out new perspectives.  For example, Ian Bostridge's Dark Mirror, a staging of Hans Zender's homage to Schubert at the Barbican, London, with Netia Jones's video projections drawing out disturbing depths. Please read my review here.   And Matthias Goerne's Winterreise with pianist Markus Hinterhäuser at the Aix en Provence Festival with a background of projected images designed by Sabine Theunissen, directed by William Kentridge (Please read my review here).  This included an image of the notorious "Hanging Tree" of the Thirty Years War, connecting the trauma of German history to the birth of the Romantic revolution.  Schubert's Winterreise is so profound that it's pointless to decry interpretation. What matters is the nature of presentation.

This performance was illustrated by Victoria Crowe's paintings of winter, created over a 40-year period.  Some of these, like the picture of a huge oak tree, bereft of leaves, against a blue background, were immediately familiar since they were used in the booklet for Rose and Matthewman's Winterreise recording for Stone Records. While some of the illustrations used were inspired by Winterreise, others had different origins,which perhaps explains why some connected to the songs better than others did.  Crowe's work can be eerily beautiful, like the flowers springing from the ground, drafted with great skill. The crows in the painting used for "Die Krähe" hung awkwardly, a fault of the mechanical means of projection, rather than the quality of the image itself.  Whatever technology was used, it wasn't particularly effective, doing no justice either to the music or to Crowe's art.  Although Winterreise is so well known, many in the audience were immersed in the printed text, rather than paying attention. This performance deserved more attention.  

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Spiked potion - Frank Martin Le vin herbé WNO

Frank Martin Le vin herbé starts today at the Welsh National Opera in Cardiff before going on tour.   From the synopsis, you'd think it was Tristan und Isolde, Martin's Le vin herbé is spiked, with a twist.  Martin's oratorio profane is an alternative to the extremes of Wagnerian excess.  Martin, a Swiss national, could hardly have been unaware of what was happening in Germany, and of the Nazi appropriation of Wagner. Le vin herbé represents a completely different antithesis to the Tristan und Isolde cult and to the aesthetic of Third Reich Bayreuth.

Martin had been reading Le roman de Tristan et Iseult, a 1900 romance by French medievalist Joseph Bédier, who based his work on early French sources of the legend, striving to "eradicate inconsistencies, anachronisms, false embellishments,and never to mix our modern conceptions with ancient forms of thought and feeling". By "modern", Bédier meant 1900, when Bayreuth's version dominated public taste. Martin's Le vin herbé is restrained, the very simplicity of its form connecting to the aesthetic of the Middle Ages.
Martin doesn't write pastiche medievalism though.  Le vin herbé is scored for chamber choir and orchestra, so the palette is clean and pure, "modern" in the sense that Martin was writing in the late 1930's, when many French and German composers used medieval subjects as metaphors for modern times. Martin  used dodecaphony to open up and refine tonality, and add subtle lustre and mystery.  The role of the choir is important. Just as in a Greek Chorus, the choir comments on events, creating distance from the frenzied fevers of the  herbal concoction which Tristan and Iseult imbibe. In a departure from medieval form, the choir sings in unison, not polyphony, so the words they sing are part of the drama rather than decoration for decoration's sake. Soloists sometimes sing alone, sometimes with the chorus, and chorus members sing solo parts. It's as if the voices emerge and retreat into background tapestry.

There are only eight instruments in the orchestra, all strings (3v, 2va 2vc cb) with piano. Just as the voices emerge from the choir, solo instruments emerge from the opera at critical  moments; the contrabass and celli reinforcing  Tristan's part. The cantilenas for solo violin are exquisite, operating as an ethereal extra voice, commenting without words. The piano provides a measured counter to the fervent, passionate heartbeat when the strings surge in unison, marking the moment when Iseult and Tristan drink the potion and fall in love. Martin was working on Le Philtre before he even received a commission for the full work.

Tristan and Iseult are joined together in a drugged state, beautiful but ultimately fatal. They run off to live in the forest of Morois,where King Marke find them but spares them. Tristan escapes and after three years in a foreign land marries the evil Iseult of the White Hands. He's injured in battle  by a poison-tipped lance. Now the piano tolls like a bell, and the violin melody soars as if it were stretching across the seas in search of Iseult, mounting frenzy in the orchestra and chorus, and Iseult bursts in with a wild "Hélas ! chétive, hélas !",  the strings swirling around her turbulently.  Tristan is dead but Iseult lies down by Tristan "body to body, mouth to mouth".  We don't get a Mild und Liese, but there's some mighty fine writing for the orchestra and other voices. In an Epilogue, the choir sets out the moral of the story,  perhaps when the effects of the drug wear off, Tristan and Iseult find the true meaning of love. "Puissant-ils trouver ici consolation contre l'inconstance,  contre l'injustice, contre le dépit,  contre le pein, contre tous les maux d'amour"

Martin's Le vin herbé is by no means a rarity. There was a major staging last year, in Berlin, with Anna Prohaska.  There are two recordings. the first from 1960 with the composer himself at the piano, and more recently, the recording with Sandrine Piau, with the RIAS Kammerchor conducted by Daniel Reuss: both indispensable, and both very different. How the WNO production will compare, I don't know.

Le vin Herbé is very different from Martin's larger-scale works like Golgotha and Der Sturm, but it is an insight into an important but neglected period in music history. Understand Le vin herbé and you get a key into Poulenc, Honegger, Hartmann, Orff, and Braunfels.  It also connects to the literature and visual arts, including film, of the time. I discovered Frank Martin by sheer accident, hearing Die Weise von Liebe und Tod des Cornets Christoph Rilke (1942/3) another "medieval" piece with a modern twist.  Please read my other posts on Wagner Tristan und Isolde,  especially "More tradition than meets the eye" and THIS about the Christof Loy Tristan und Isolde at the Royal Opera House. There's much more to the opera than fake medieval costumes.Think about characterization, and the characters as human beings in a dramatic setting.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Jonas Kaufmann Barbican £435 ? Sex or art ?

Jonas Kaufmann's Barbican residency, London  Tickets sold out months ago, despite being priced way beyond average. High prices are fair enough for JK, Karita Mattila, Eric Halfvarson and Tony Pappano, but for the piano recital with Helmut Deutsch ? Viagogo advertised one ticket for the last concert at £435, though I've heard a rumour that prices on the black market were much higher.  This is indecent, it's nothing to do with art.  Which raises interesting questions.  Was the series artistic endeavour or celebrity binge ? Or both ?  Why not?  Nothing JK does is "ordinary". Some of my friends, true devotees, travelled for thousands of miles to attend, and had a wonderful time.  Experience of a lifetime!  Most of my friends opted for the Wagner concert, a wise choice, since hardly anyone does Siegmund better than JK, and Mattila was, by all accounts, even more impressive.

The first concert was much less interesting since Kaufmann's done similar programmes before, including at the Wigmore Hall.  Kaufmann's timbre is  quite Italianate, with luscious depth, ideally suited to Britten's Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo  op 22.  Much better than Peter Pears, who sounds like he's singing an alien language. Kaufmann makes the songs breathe sensual richness. Kaufmann's done the Schumann Kerner Lieder op 35 several times, too, as recently in London as 2015.  Nothing obscure about these songs !  Again, they suit Kaufmann's voice. In one of the songs  Stirb'  Lieb’ und Freud”! , a man observes a woman transfixed by religious ecstasy. Beautiful as the image is, it's unnatural to the man, who now can never speak of his love. The tessitura suddenly peaks so high that some singers scrape into falsetto, but no chance of that with Kaufmann, who has the range, and has the technique to make it easy.

It doesn't matter if listeners don't know the songs or who the poet was : the important thing was to pay attention and figure out why Kaufmann likes doing them.  Unfortunately some of the London press tends towards fashion victim. This is a shame, because that does JK no favours. The better audiences understand what he does, and why, the better they'll really value him, but with a press that values hype over substance, how do listeners learn ?.  Schumann's Kerner Lieder are by no means obscure, or difficult to follow.  Think about those images of gold, wine, mystery, lusciousness : JK all over, and making the most of the smoky undertones that make his voice unique.  Read HERE for more about the Kerner Lieder. 

Kaufmann's last concert could well be the most interesting of all, because he's doing something really different, Strauss Vier letzte Lieder, which were written for soprano.  Songs change when they're transposed to a different kind of voice, but there's nothing controversial about that, in principle.  So what Kaufmann will do with them is fascinating. They have been done by men before, even by baritones. But again, I think Kaufmann has the range and stylishness to convince. Moreover, presenting Vier letzte Lieder in the context of other Strauss, and together with Erich Korngold's Schauspeile Overture and Elgar's In the South, also makes a difference.  Again, even if these works are new the challenge is to listen, and appreciate how hearing things in context influences the experience.   Alas, the concert was cancelled at the last minute ! 

There's another concert Feb. 16th 2018, where Kaufmann will sing Hugo Wolf  Italienisches Liederbuch with Diana Damrau.  Tickets reaching £160 !  Again, a wise match between material and voice. Each of these songs tells a little story. While they aren't "operatic", they withstand operatic treatment better than most Lieder.  Kaufmann's voice and Damrau's balance very well, so it's hardly surprising that they've done these songs together before.  Although the Barbican Hall isn't ideal for piano song, it's not bad.  Fischer-Dieskau and Schwarzkopf sold out the Royal Festival Hall when they sang Hugo Wolf, sixty years ago. The RFH is bigger than the Barbican and in those days had a dead acoustic. In the end, it's the quality of listening that counts. 

So Jonas Kaufmann's a sex god ?   Real fans also love him for his art. And for many of us, that's WHY he's so darn sexy !

Movie Star Dog meets Wagner


How generations of Chinese kids learned western classical music without any hassle.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Nicolai Gedda, moving personal tribute

Wonderful, moving tribute to Nicolai Gedda (1925-2017) by Nils-Göran Olve. Infinitely better than most media memorials. Well worth sharing !  Below, a clip of Gedda singing Janácek The Diary of One who Disappeared, in 1984.

During his long career, Gedda sang almost annually in his hometown Stockholm: at the Royal Opera 1952-1992, in concerts and in smaller venues until around 2000. I heard him regularly from around 1960 when I was 12: The Duke, Cavaradossi, Lensky, Hoffmann, Lohengrin, Gustav III (aka Riccardo) and Kristian II (in Naumann’s Gustav Vasa) are the parts I remember offhand, but also many recitals, Swedish Radio recording of Pelléas (in Swedish), orchestral concerts, and stray appearances in benefits. He lived here and in Switzerland and seemed very willing to participate when asked. He also was consulted by many singers. One told me how Gedda had helped him a lot through his very thorough knowledge of vocal technique, but almost intimidated him by showing how to sing some high note which gave the student – an established singer – difficulties. Gedda was past 80 and had not warmed up his voice, but struck the key on the piano and just sang the note. On the other hand, he was said (and claimed himself) to be shy, and his third wife (from 1997) was rumoured to protect him, so none of the Friends associations in Stockholm managed to invite him for a meeting. He once promised personally to come to the Folk Opera Friends, who gained a lot of new members who wanted to attend when they announced it. But it was cancelled – his wife rang up and said “sorry” a few weeks ahead.

People I know claim that he was “ready” as a singer already at age 22 or 23, although the voice then was much smaller. He made his famous debut at the Stockholm Opera in early 1952 when he was almost 27 – an age many tenors are making international debuts – but made up for that by being picked up by Walter Legge of EMI (and Schwarzkopf’s husband) the same year, and starting the enormous series of recordings that would go on for 50 years (if we include his late cameo parts). This was the age when so much was recorded for the first time, and Gedda was dependable, versatile, read music well and knew languages. He had a mixed background and spoke Swedish, Russian and German already as a child, also singing publicly from music (and not only by ear) as a boy soprano. His recordings (also due to the singers and conductors he collaborated with) will remain references for as long anyone cares about this repertoire. I don’t think he was loved by his Swedish audience in the way Jussi Björling and, in a different way, Birgit Nilsson were. Jussi’s national songs are still part of the “Swedish soul” and Birgit’s appearances on talk-shows, telling her stories and laughing loudly, get an occasional airing on TV. (Her artistic greatness is more difficult to fathom from her recordings.) 

Gedda’s personality was more aloof, and his voice and interpretation struck many as “studied” and “technical”. In a way they of course were, and from around age 40 he developed a huge range of vocal colours. Watching him sing in later years, especially in concert, you saw his body working from the toes up, sometimes swaying a bit, and the volume of the sound grew a lot during the first 10 or 15 years I heard him. But he retained his high Russian-style mezza voce to the end. In younger years he was quite good looking and tall for a tenor, not a spontaneous great actor, but different from many in his position he would always give the impression of throwing himself into what the director asked from him.

Nils-Göran Olve

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Harrison Birtwistle's secret opera? King Lear

Harrison Birtwistle's secret opera, King Lear ?  Dementia is not madness but the last flaring up of a brave soul, raging that the world is closing in on him: a final explosion of creative defiance against the cruelty of fate.  All the elements of Birtwistle's style - cryptic clues embedded in complex mazes,  geological blocks of sound built layer upon layer, sudden flashes of quirky illumination.  Birtwistle and Lear were meant to be. Plus, a perfect role for John Tomlinson. While everything around him disintegrates, this Lear will hold himself together, searching for patterns against all odds.  Lear's madness is a rage against the storm and gathering night. 

In typical Birtwistle fashion, an anti-overture that functions as a finale in reverse. A densely detailed, long introduction that creates Lear in his prime as a forceful personality for whom creativity was the very stuff of life. Themes and sub-themes suggest Lear's  inventive mind and passion for experience, so intense that the layers jostle for attention. An overwhelming challenge. But so is life.  Great theatre: knocking the audience off their seats right from the start. Gradually as the opera proceeds, themes fall away until what's left is a basic line, repeated fitfully, refusing to end.  People with dementia do rituals because repeated routines provide a structure to hold onto.  One old man told me why he liked touching the walls of his room. "So I can remember the shape of space". Utterly logical and a very Birtwistle concept.

Lear's lines are short. Words suddenly shoot out in a torrent, sometimes in mechanical  patterns. Towards the end, words themselves disintegrate into fragments, a boon for a singer conserving his resources.  If the singer barks and growls, so be it ! He's earned the right of respite.  As the orchestra sang the full story at the beginning of this opera, it will sing for Lear when his own voice becomes dim. Other parts appear fleetingly,but they aren't central, often submerged within a chorus whose form and composition varies.  Sometimes the chorus explodes in mad chatter while Lear listens. Sometimes the  voices fade sotto voce, hiding secrets. Every now and then, flurries of lyrical sound, representing a world beyond that is now elusive, but was so good that it was worth living in.  Little trios, like the daughters when they were young.

Birtwistle's King Lear is a masterpiece, fierce, difficult to play and conduct, but relatively easy to stage.  But why didn't London notice?  Too distracted by Jonas Kaufmann at the Barbican?  Tonight I had a surreal dream and woke, wondering who the librettist might be. Not Harsent, maybe Martin  Crimp.  Then I realized that the whole opera had been a dream, so intensely vivid and detailed that I'd remebered it in full from the night before, and was revisiting the night after.  Another level of non-reality, framing the "real" opera. 

"Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drench'd our steeples, drown'd the cocks!
You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head!

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Jurowski : Kancheli and blazing Ralph Vaughan Williams

Vladimir Jurowski (photo : Thomas Kurek)
Vladimir Jurowski at his finest in last week's concert at the Royal Festival Hall with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, part of their ongoing series Belief and Beyond Belief.  Jurowski is special to me because he's an extremely spiritual personality,  who thinks deeply about music as part of human experience. When Jurowski speaks, he's worth listening to;  he doesn't do small talk. A while back, he did a series in Russia about war and peace for audiences that didn't look like they spent much time in black tie. His choices were eclectic, even avant garde, but he described them in such a way that the audience held onto his every word. He communicated such sincerity that he drew respect even when the language barrier intervened. The South Bank is so full of hype these days that's it's annoying even to navigate the website. But there's nothing fake about Vladimir Jurowski.

In this concert, Jurowski and the LPO did an unconventional but thoughtful programme  Giya Kancheli Mourned by the Wind and  Bohuslav Martinů: Memorial to Lidice together with Ralph Vaughan Williams Symphony no 9Fortunately it's now broadcast on BBC Radio 3 , since going to the South Bank is more pain than pleasure these days.  The other big plus is that we get to hear Jurowski talk about the music, more fluently than most presenters. Third bonus, as interval feature Herbert Howell's a capella chorale Take him, Earth, for cherishing.

Kancheli called Mourned by the Wind (1988) a "Liturgy" but it's not religious so much as an intense, personal outpouring of grief for a dead friend.  It begins with a single chord which resonates into silence. The viola enters, quietly at first, playing a figure that hovers back and forth between two poles. Isabelle van Keuelen held the line firmly, unswayed by the sudden cataclysmic outburst in the orchestra behind her.  Fierce staccato blasts, another cataclysm, wilder than the first, with thundering timpani, and another "death stroke" single chord.  But the viola isn't defeated.  Emerging from a rumbling, shimmering background it defines a melody that evolves into delicately plucked patterns: resplendent like starlight.  The "death strokes" return, wave after wave, but the viola holds its plaintive line, until it evaporates into silence.  

Martinů Memorial to Lidice (1943) commemorates Lidice in Bohemia, obliterated by the Nazis. Again the subject matter is death but on a more abstract musical level; the connections include contrasting poles. In Kancheli the tension swings between staccato orchestra and solo viola, In Martinů, the contrast is between brute force and the innocence of folk music. 

Thus a dramatic context was set for Vaughan Williams's Ninth Symphony from 1956-7.  Whatever the symphony may or  may not be about,  Jurowski gave it a savage power and majesty one doesn't often associate with British music. All to the good, for here, at the very end of his life, RVW is breaking new ground. He will not "go gentle into that good night".  He uses saxophones in sassy chorus, and a flugelhorn, extending the low resonance of the brasses, which include tuba, and contrabassoon. Dark colours of foreboding and passages which march with demonic violence. 

It's also a strikingly modern work, vividly experimental and unabashed, as Jurowski's approach made clear.  No wonder critics 60 years ago didn't know what to make of it.  As Edward Said said, "late style" can be liberating since a composer no longer needs to conform. Elliott Carter joked that in his own "late, late style", he didn't have to seek approval from anyone but himself.  Yet RVW is totally in control of his powers, highly disciplined, attention focused on essentials, nothing superficial. He uses the flugelhorn for a purpose, as if blasting away at the veneer of conventional "good taste". Life's too precious to fritter mindlessly away!  The tightness of the orchestration was reflected in the strength of the performance, the LPO surpassing themselves.  An RVW Ninth that was monumental in every way.  If the LPO doesn't release this commercially, it will enter the bootleg market as a milestone in RVW interpretation. 

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Susanna Mälkki : Mahler 6, Francesconi Duende

Mahler Symphony no 6 with Luca Francesconi's Duende, with Susanna Mälkki conducting the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, last week, available HERE direct from the orchestra's website. Two innovative pieces, written a hundred years apart yet enhancing each other.  Mahler said "music lies not only in the notes", meaning that music stems from much deeper sources than the the means through which it is expressed. 

Francesconi's Duende : The Dark Notes  (2013) was commissioned for Leila Josefowicz, who worked so closely with the composer as the piece took shape that it's  practically a co-operative effort.  When Josefowicz fell pregnant, the premiere was postponed for a year.   Mälkki is also closely connected to the piece since she introduced Josefwicz to Francesconi, and conducted the world premiere in Stockholm in February 2014.  This Helsinki performance distils experience into maturity: a very rewarding reading.  Josefowicz is superb, better even than when she played it in London in 2015 with Mälkki and the BBC SO. (read more here)  The title refers to the semi-hypnotic state flamenco dancers can get into when they get carried away with this spirit of their music.  "When the ego dies, the soul awakes", a message which applies to all things in life, specially relevant in a world where too many proudly reject anything beyond themselves.

Duende grows from refined beginnings : sprightly chords answered by hushed percussion   As the tempo builds up the violin seems to take on a life of its own, gloriously inventive, ranging free, as if the instrument were exploring a world of wonder and endless possibilities.  Sudden, exotic diminuendos enhanced by low winds.  Spiky pizzicato and long lines of dizzying bowing.  Extreme alertness : orchestra and soloist paying close attention to each other. Josefowicz rests while the brass lead the orchestra on an adventure. The fourth movement, Ritual, is like the stillness in the eye of a storm.  Then the bassoons call, and Josefowicz leads the orchestra in splendid swathes of colourful resonance. Then Josefowicz is on her own,  "zoned out" yet totally in control playing long lines of exquisite beauty and variety. A single marimba, then another, creating mysterious ripples of magical sound.  Josefowicz's lines become rarified,  as if the violin is taking off into an ethereal new dimension.

In this context,  Mahler's Symphony no 6 felt immensely rewarding.  The first movement was brisk,  bringing out the march-like undercurrents, underlining the vigorous life force that runs throughout so much of Mahler.  When the quieter, shriller themes came they added a chill of presentiment. Yet the march continued, firmly delineated, emerging in defiant swagger.  The Andante was tenderly phrased, warm yet tinged with nostalgia, since the images being recalled are firmly in the past.  What I liked about this performance was the way Mälkki brought out the duality which flows through the symphony, past and future merging in subtle balance.  One of the better M6 andantes I've heard in a while. The Helsinki players are strong on refined texture, and  Mälkki  uses that to advantage.  The line hovers, yet rises ever upward,: like the vistas in Mahler's Third.  Lovely as things are, life is forever a state of flux, nothing can stay the same.  The andante drew to a close with almost elegaic repose, so greater the shock when the strident brass and strings in the scherzo burst forth. A strong sense of menace, the chords cutting with angular force.  Yet despite this, tiny, dancing lines rip along, undaunted by pounding timpani.  The natural pulse of this symphony beats clear and pure. Even when the brass throws mocking raspberries, the basic line picks itself up and keeps dancing.  

Thus the resolution, when it came in the Finale, was firm.  The "tragic" figures marched, the strings shivered , the cymbals exploded.  Mälkki's tempi were resolute, no holding back.  Nonetheless, there is a stillness in the heart of this movement, a final looking back. before the dull thud of the first hammerblow.  The orchestra flew into forceful life, the "march" well-defined.  When we heard the cowbells again, they were muted.   The pace slowed as if reluctant to progress.  Yet the oboe returned,  sweet and defiant, and the orchestra once more flared into life, gradually receding. After the final crash, the sounds are still. But as we know, the music does not end.  Often, I think Mahler 6 should be called "The Inextinguishable" and not "The Tragic".