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PROMS 2002

REVIEW 2: PROM 52: Mahler Symphony no 3, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam, Michelle de Young (alto), Ladies of the London Symphony Chorus and Trinity Boys Choir, Eliahu Inbal (conductor), Royal Albert Hall, BBC Proms, 28 August 2002 (PQ)


Eliahu Inbal's Mahler cycle on Denon has long been consigned to the dustbin of deletions (without my having heard any of it) so I was looking forward to this first Prom appearance by a figure who appears to enjoy a far higher profile in the rest of Europe than he does here. Having heard a rumour around the hall that the conductor had failed to make the afternoon rehearsal I was anticipating a degree of spontaneity, but what that appeared to entail was the players hanging on for grim death, to keep together between themselves and to follow Inbal's beat. What can you do when a conductor throws out a wild cue for the clarinets to the left of the stage... and the clarinets come in, on the right. I swear at one stage he did the same with one of the timpanists, only for the player to stare at him in complete disbelief and ignore him. I don't mind the odd mudged chord, but after a while they become accumulative and I found it very difficult to stop all the mistakes (like halfway through the vast first movement, the 1st horn and solo fiddle half a bar out with each other; not their fault but Inbal's on that occasion) distracting me.

If you're wondering where 'the interpretation' was in all of this nit-picking, well, so was I. The exigencies of appearing as a late replacement on limited rehearsal time appeared to deprive Inbal of any chance to inflect the performance in a distinctive or cohesive way. The many sections of the first movement were stitched roughly together by a fairly fast basic tempo that, at climaxes, had the orchestra scrabbling for notes until Inbal held up proceedings with massive ritenuti (to give the players time to arrive at the double bar together?). Lorin Maazel's generous, rallentando-laden account with the LSO a few months ago was a model of taste by comparison (apart from being far better played and controlled).

I took the observance or not of the infamous hinaufziehen marking in the fourth movement to be indicative of the lack of preparation that the orchestra had enjoyed as a whole. The cor played the first one straight with no glissando, then small glisses on nos 2 and 3. Then for the fourth, fifth and sixth instances of the phrase he played the third below as a definite note, a kind of acciaccatura to the top note, and mostly stuck with that to the end of the movement. I don't believe Inbal had fully told him what he wanted, is the upshot. Michelle de Young appeared unfazed by such inconsistencies to sing Nietzsche's soul-searching text with ideally veiled tone. She even managed to ignore the crassly twanging harp next to her that threatened to ruin the movement's atmosphere. Its volume was evident proof that Inbal simply had not spent sufficient time on the hall or with the orchestra to judge and balance qualities as basic as dynamic levels.

The pity was that the performance finally settled into some sort of groove in the choral fifth movement and stayed there for a heartfelt final adagio, which by that time was difficult to enjoy. Even so his allargando at the coda was overdone; getting two timpanists to hammer those final notes is fairly prone to mishap, and so it proved when they failed to land together and created a huge bu-boom effect. (Surely one should do the strikes and the other the rolls?). The Concertgebouw players were on only slightly better form the previous night so having been excited by the possibilities of Inbal and Sinaisky, I rather wish Chailly had provided a familiar grounding force.

Peter Quantrill


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