CD Review: Dudamel’s Mahler Journey Begins At The End



Mahler 9
Los Angeles Philharmonic
Gustavo Dudamel
Deutsches Grammophon 479 0924 (2CD set)

In early 2012, Venezuelan Wunderkind Gustavo Dudamel undertook his journey with the symphonies of Gustav Mahler (1860 –1911). Conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic and his own Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, to commemorate the centenary of Mahler’s death, he led performances of all of Mahler’s completed symphonies, some of which were recorded.

It is an accomplishment that only the elite aspire to from the first historic recording by BrunoWalter conducting the Vienna Philharmonic in 1938, to Gergiev with the London Symphony Orchestra, and the Berlin Philharmonic’s recordings under Karajan, Abbado and Rattle.

For his first CD with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Dudamel has started his journey at the end of Mahler’s symphonic journey. The Ninth Symphony was Mahler’s last completed symphony, composed between 1908 and 1909. Recorded live at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in February 2012 and released by Deutsches Grammophon in 2013, the four movement symphony is spread over 2 CDs amounting to just under 90 minutes of music.

Gustavo began his fascination with Gustav early in life. He says “My love affair with Mahler started when I was a boy and was given a recording by my uncle……. The works of Mahler have a very special place in my heart and to have my two families, the LA Phil and the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra, perform the complete cycle in both L.A. and Caracas is, for me, a dream come true.”

The first big symphonic piece Dudamel conducted at age 16 with the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela was Mahler’s First Symphony, which he reprised in his inaugural concert as Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in October 2009, touring the US with it in 2010.

In the 2010-11 season with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Dudamel presented Mahler 9 as well as taking it on tour to Europe, including two performances at Vienna’s Musikveirein – where Mahler himself conducted.

Mahler drafted his Ninth Symphony in the summer of 1909 at a time when he was able to focus on conducting, with performances of his own symphonies as well as works by the great masters, on both sides of the Atlantic. However it was also a time of tragedy, for between the success of his Eighth Symphony which premiered in Munich in September 1909 and the time he began drafting his Tenth (uncompleted) Symphony, he discovered that his beloved wife Alma had begun an affair with Walter Gropius, the architect and founder of the Bauhuas School, whom she married after Mahler’s death. Mahler’s writing at this time is tinged with his sorrow at Alma’s infidelity and a sense of his own mortality and dispensability. Mahler’s first child Maria died of scarlet fever aged 5, and Mahler himself suffered from a heart condition.

It is also impossible to forget the influence of song in Mahler’s body of work, with his integration of his song melodies into his symphonic writing and the fact that he had completed Das Lied von der Erde in 1908 – 1909 following his Eighth Symphony. The Ninth Symphony quotes from his Kindertotenlieder and evokes Das Lied von der Erde.

Dudamel’s performance of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony with the Los Angeles Philharmonic is a pairing of Titans. Just 31 when he made this recording which embodies Mahler’s life, Dudamel’s interpretation is greatly lyrical without being sentimental, poignant without being maudlin, dramatic without being overplayed.

Definitely one for the collection.

Shamistha de Soysa for SoundsLikeSydney©


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