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In performance: BSO with Mahler and Mozart

Web-only review:

BSO goes pretty with cozy standards
by Charles T. Downey

If anything, the program offered by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra on Friday night at Meyerhoff Hall was too pretty, too easy on the ears. Continuing an unofficial traversal of Gustav Mahler's symphonies, music director Marin Alsop gave up on last season's unsuccessful pairing of Mahler's music with that of Leonard Bernstein. Instead the concert matched Mahler's most radiant, least neurotic symphony, the fourth, with some cozy Mozart.
(read more after the jump)

Susanna Phillips's pellucid soprano voice, heard in an excellent recital earlier in the week, seemed optimally suited to Mahler's last movement. The poem it sets, "Das himmlische Leben" from the "Des Knaben Wunderhorn" collection, is a childlike description of a heaven where, on fast days, the fish swim up to offer themselves as food for the blessed. Indeed, Phillips sang the solo with gorgeous, well-supported clarity, a shining, simple but not colorless sound, limpid and calm on the mysterious chords of "Sankt Peter im Himmel sieht zu," which return as a refrain.

The BSO responded with some of its best playing in the Mahler, especially in themonumental slow movement. Alsop seemed more at ease here than in her previous Mahler symphonies in Baltimore, allowing the music to unfold joyfully and with its quirks rather than allowing too many of her own to intrude.

An adequate but generic rendition of Mozart's "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" was a pleasant enough introduction, although any of the shorter, less-performed Mozart symphonies of the 1770s would have been more interesting. Three of Mozart's concert arias were lovely but brought out a slightly edgier quality in Phillips's voice.

-- Charles T. Downey

By Anne Midgette  |  November 8, 2009; 7:30 PM ET
Categories:  local reviews  
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Next: In performance: Bastien und Bastienne


So what's everyone's position on translating foreign phrases in reviews? I'm in favor of it. I can fake my way to understanding that German, but I'm pretty sure most people won't be able to.

Posted by: Lindemann777 | November 9, 2009 6:17 AM | Report abuse

[meaning, most people in general, as opposed to most commenters on this blog...]

Posted by: Lindemann777 | November 9, 2009 6:19 AM | Report abuse

I rarely get to Baltimore for BSO performances (although I've reached the point where the "B" in "BSO" is no longer automatically "Boston"), and the timing of most Strathmore events doesn't work for me, but I can see I'm going to have to make more of an effort.

I'd like to reassure Andrew -- not that even the great unwashed are untroubled by the untranslated German, but rather that the resources of the Web (the only place where the review was published, it appears) enable the curious to look it all up. As Andrew hints, I had no trouble with it, but then I first heard the M4 on record (Walter, of course) in 1956. First live performance by the Harvard-Radcliffe Orch in 1966 -- and a damned good one.

As for pairings, I think the Bernstein idea sounds more promising than Mr. Downey allows. Think of following the lamentation of the Jeremiah Symphony with the heavenly delights of the M4. Some contrast! Or the Chichester Psalms with the "Resurrection" -- hey, the chorus is already there. Oh, well ...

Tme to research the rest of the BSO season and do some cherry-picking.

Posted by: BobL | November 9, 2009 8:09 AM | Report abuse

Was ist los, Andrew?

For the curious, English translations for the German phrases, in order, are:

"The heavenly life" (Life in heaven)

"The boy's magic horn"

"Saint Peter in heaven looks on"

"A little night music"

Referring to titles or phrases in the original language is more precise. While adding English translations in parentheses would be desirable, it plays havoc with the word count. As it turned out, that was not the issue, but one never knows.

Posted by: Charles_D | November 9, 2009 9:23 AM | Report abuse

Thanks, Bob and Charles. I definitely see your points of view. I'm not super-committed to mine, so I thought it would be interesting to throw it out to the crowd.

Maybe I should be doing this on my blog, but I thought of it when trying to remember what "sieht" meant when reading Charles' fine review.

Posted by: Lindemann777 | November 9, 2009 9:05 PM | Report abuse

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