A brisk, bracing Mahler 8 from Gergiev, Mariinsky Orchestra in Washington
There are never enough opportunities for live encounters with the so-called Symphony of a Thousand, so this was a must for any serious Mahler nut. It was more like Symphony of the Three Hundred in this presentation by the Washington Performing Arts Society, but that number of performers provided more than enough vocal and orchestral fire power. J
oining the Mariinsky instrumentalists were singers from the Mariinsky Theatre, the Choral Arts Society of Washington, Orfeon Pamplones from Spain, and Children's Chorus of Washington, all packed tightly onto the stage and the balcony overhead. (The only thing missing was the text. Maybe the whole house knew the Latin hymn and the German words from Part II of Goethe's "Faust" by heart, but I rather doubt it.)
Although I had reservations about some of Gergiev's interpretive approach, the experience ended up reaching quite a peak of expressive force and sheer decibels. The last half hour or so were truly magical.
This was a brisk Mahler 8. Gergiev tore through
There was some untidy playing by the orchestra, but also a lot of richly expressive work, including some shining violin and viola solos and warm-hued woodwinds. The choruses handled their demanding assignments with distinction; voice sections in the adult choirs were smoothly balanced, articulation clear, dynamic contrasts sensitively delineated. The children sounded charming (they cupped their hands over the mouths to produce a little more volume).
By and large, the solos singers came through in style. Lyudmila Dudinova sang with particular radiance; her fellow sopranos -- Anastasia Kalagina and Viktoria Yastrebova -- were not far behind in warmth of tone and phrase. Bass Yevgeny Nikitin and, especially, baritone Alexei Markov produced vivid phrasing. Olga Savova's burnished mezzo was another plus. Tenor Avgust Amonov was nearly defeated by the punishing high notes (like Strauss, Mahler expected the unlikely, if not the impossible, from tenors), but he regained his footing and delivered the stirring "Blicket auf" passage quite affectingly.
Mahler's Eighth, conjuring visions of redemption and the eternal life-force that might melt the most determined agnostic, remains one of the most impressive works of Western music. It felt great to be in its presence again.