Songs of a Wayfarer

It starts tonight, a massive undertaking for both audiences and musicians; the Mahler Symphonies in order, performed entirely by the Staatskapelle Berlin under the batons of Daniel Barenboim and Pierre Boulez. The two conductors are generally splitting up the works, with Boulez handling the symphonies with voices, Barenboim the rest. It’s a fine orchestra that I only know from their recordings of Beethoven and Schumann, and the singers include superb ringers like Thomas Quasthoff and Michelle DeYoung, both of whom I’ve heard perform Mahler beautifully.

I’m not sure what to expect. It’s Mahler, something that I have a deep personal involvement with. But so much in such a short period of time, I can’t anticipate the effect it will have. I imagine it will be intensely exhausting for the musicians, and find the ambition a bit astonishing. As for the conductors, well, that’s the wild card. Barenboim has made fine recording of the 7th and 9th, his 5th is okay but nothing special. Boulez can be maddening with Mahler, moments and movements that are perfect beyond imagining, others that are incomprehensible. He has been consistently good in the vocal works, and I find him a much more satisfying musician live than in the studio. His 6th on record is a combination of perfect and wrong, and he’s conducting it on the 12th. I will try and post impressions without the usual involved examinations.

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