After a run of chamber concerts at the Festival, my final five tickets return me to my usual Fach, the large orchestra concerts starting this morning with an all-Mahler program with the Vienna Philharmonic under Daniel Barenboim.
Barenboim is a perfectly competent if not particularly interesting conductor, so the concert was good but not insightful. He used the orchestra to paint thick musical canvasses, but did not necessarily do anything with the music that I have not already heard. Although this morning’s primary work was Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, the natural point of contrast would be to Herbert Blomstedt leading the Philharmonic in Mahler’s Ninth last month, in which Blomstedt opened new worlds within the existing notes and produced a trascendental performance from this orchestra. Not anywhere in the same league as Blomstedt, Barenboim came across as certain but not always clear, and at times it sounded as though the orchestra could not really follow him. Also missing: any sense of Angst – and what is Mahler without Angst?
The concert opened with Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder, with mezzo Okka von der Damerau as soloist. Damerau has a full, well-rounded voice. She warbles a bit at the lower register, which also did not project as well as the upper registers. But she overall has a clear sound that interacted especially well with the woodwinds, whose colors Barenboim was most intent on drawing out.