Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Gustav Mahler, Symphony No. 8 "Symphony of a Thousand" - Dresdner Musikfestspiele, Dresdner Kreuzkirche

Performance 21st May

I came back to Dresden last saturday for one of the most epic pieces in classical music which not without reason has the inofficial title "Symphony of a Thousand". Mahler's huge 8th Symphony is enormous in evey single way. A huge orchestra, several choirs and 7 vocal soloists come together for a piece that is able to literally take your breath away.
Conductor Omer Meir Wellber conducted the Istrael Philharmonic Orchestra which was joined by musicians of the Sinfonieorchester der Hochschule für Musik Dresden. Wellber's conducting style looks very scholarly and sometimes a bit strangely, but he seems to have everything under controll (which is already quite an achievement with this piece). He managed to show a very clear and transparent rendition of the score. The orchestra did a very good job following his instructions and convinced with a great dynamic range. From the very soft parts where you could barely hear the orchestra to the tremendous outbreaks they were able to convey everthing. It never sounded just brutally loud, but always musically refined and sophisticatedly.
The several participating choirs featured the Prager Philharmonischer Chor, the Singakademie Dresden, the Universitätschor Dresden, the Knabenchor Dresden and the Kinderchor der Singakademie Dresden. I was really impressed by the great balance during the choir parts and the wonderful contrasts between extremely intimate passages and the moments of full power. The beginning of the final Chorus mysticus was simply exceptional and gave me goosebumps through and through. Meir Wellber managed to keep orchestra and choirs together very well and it sounded really brilliantly.
The male soloists were sung by Gábor Bretz (Pater Profundus), Christoph Pohl (Pater Ecstaticus) and Lance Ryan (Doctor Marianus, jumping in for Stefano Secco). Bretz's dark heroic voice sounded solemnly and dignifiedly and he sang with great passion. Christoph Pohl's voice convinced with a very noble warm timbre and a very beautifully sounding upper register. His baritone also has a very appealing quality of tone and is simply wonderful to listen to. Unfortunately Lance Ryan did not fit into the rest of the ensemble. I cannot help but feeling that his intonation is quite dreadful in the upper register and the timbre simply isn't really beautiful. However his voice is quite powerful and it is very thankful that he took over for his sick colleague.
The two low female roles featured Gala el Hadidi (Maria Aegyptiaca) and legendary Waltraud Meier (Mulier Samaritana). Gala el Hadidi convinced with an incredibly warm, dark and soft alto voice. Her timbre is very tender and pleasant and also the flexibility of her voice were very satisfying. Her voice is definitely worth to be remembered. Waltraud Meier, as always, convinced with a thrilling performance with her unmistakable voice which has this special lean but intense timbre. Already seeing that woman perform is just incredibly because of her exceptional presence onstage.
The short role of Mater gloriosa was sung by Hila Baggio who has a voice that is clear like a bell. Her bright, light soprano has a shining top register and together with the mystical music it was just a magic moment.
In the role of Una Poenitentium we heard Rachel Willis-Sørensen. Her full warm soprano is powerful but still has a very beautiful timbre. Her voice sounds very softly and remains controlled and beautiful throughout her whole range. I personally think that her voice is an outstanding example of a lyric-dramatic soprano and it was a pleasure to hear her again.
Last but not least, the role of Magna Peccatrix was performed by Sarah-Jane Brandon who also has a very powerful soprano voice, but her timbre is a bit brighter and her top quite silvery. Almost without any effort she seemed to sing out these high b's and c's. She also gave a brilliant performance even though her breath could be a bit longer at certain passages.
I have to say the performance really blew my mind and I had goosebumps several times. It was so touching and beautiful that during the final Chors mysticus I even had tears in my eyes (I admit). So I would definitely give 9 stars to this glorious performance.
Reviewed by Daniel Url

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