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Vladimir Jurowski, son of conductor Michail Jurowski, debuted as chief conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, a post he still holds, with this concert in 2007. Their partnership has since produced a series of recordings on the orchestra's own label. The program combines the works of three composers of the Austro-Germanic lineage, each of whom admired his predecessor as the best composer of that generation. All three were steeped in opera and developed texturally rich, dramatic styles in a relatively small body of masterpieces.
Wagner's Prelude and Finale from the opera Parsifal (1882) moves in slow, undulating waves of chorales, and the LPO gives a finely shaded rendering of this luminous music. Jurowski maintains a tempo that captures the solemnity of the piece without dragging.
Berg's Three Pieces for Orchestra (1915) form a passionate post-Mahlerian symphony of sorts in three movements: an introduction, a scherzo that slips between duple and triple meters, and a march. Each is longer than the preceding and develops out of the motifs of the others, creating a constantly evolving web of interconnections such as one finds in Berg's models, the later Mahler symphonies (especially the Sixth, Seventh, and Ninth) and the works of his teacher, Arnold Schoenberg. Jurowski leads a riveting performance of the work that allows all of the complex counterpoint to come out of the dense web and explodes with expressionist fury at the climaxes. The orchestra handles this difficult work magnificently.
Mahler's cantata Das Klagende Lied is a rare enough piece in the concert hall and on record, but this disc captures it in its rarest form, the unrevised version of 1880. The work was initially written when the composer was a teenager, drafted over a number of years and finally submitted to a competition in 1881. The committee rejected the work, and it lay unperformed for two decades. In the meantime, the composer had revised the work, reducing the orchestration, downplaying the role of the off-stage band, and cutting out the whole first section, which is longer than either of the other two. It was in this form that the work was premiered, conducted by the composer, and published. The original first part was not rediscovered until the second half of the 20th century, and for some time the work has been performed in a version the composer never authorized or ever would have, combining the original first part with the revised later parts. The original version of the other two parts was not recorded until a 1997 disc with Kent Nagano on Erato. It remains a rarity to this day, although it is now being performed more frequently.
The work, to a text by Mahler based on various sources, is a dramatic fairy-tale cantata steeped in German Romanticism with its penchant for the supernatural and the macabre. Its plot concerns two brothers who seek a flower in order to win the hand of a queen. The younger brother finds the flower first and goes to sleep. The older brother murders the younger and takes the flower for himself. A minstrel comes across the bone of the dead brother and fashions a flute out of it, which begins to sing in the voice of the younger brother, lamenting his unjust fate. The minstrel takes this bone to the castle, where the brother's lament brings the wedding feast to a swift halt.
The soloists (five in this version) are not given characters to play, with the exception of the boy soprano who sings the younger brother's lament; they are narrators together with the chorus. Despite being an early work, much of Das Klagende Lied bears Mahler's distinct personality, and certain of its themes would later be reused in the First and Second symphonies (both written before the work's first performance). The later revisions may have refined the orchestration, but they also removed some of its most harmonically daring passages and extravagant scoring, including six harps and two tubas.
Jurowski commands a fiery performance of Mahler's work, full of rhythmic vitality and dramatic flair, that captures the piece's sharp contrasts of tone and timbre but never devolves into mere garish bombast. Among the singers the boy soprano, David Ragusa, and the soprano, Marisol Montalvo, stand out, and the basses and brass capture Mahler's tricky writing. The surround sound format of DVD allows the off-stage brass band to be faintly audible and clearly at a distance.
This DVD set comes with two extras. The lengthy (50 min) interview gives Jurowski a chance to explain the reasons for his programming and his relationship with the orchestra, though it feels very static, as mentioned in other reviews. The second disc is devoted entirely to the concert, with the exact same video content but including a constant picture in picture frame showing the conductor throughout the whole concert. Why they didn't simply give one the option to switch between angles, rather than forcing one to see it this way, I have no idea. I'd rather have the concert without this extra disc, which only increases the package cost.
This set is worthwhile primarily for the extremely rare version of Das Klagende Lied, but the Berg and Wagner pieces are given fine performances as well that show both where Mahler came from and how he continued to influence the subsequent generation of composers.