Royal Philharmonic Orchestra / Kaplan - Mahler Symphony No 2, Royal Albert Hall, London
Friday 21 October 2005
Kaplan's biography boldly claims that he "is widely considered to be one of the foremost interpreters of Mahler's Second Symphony". But putting aside the inevitable question, "By whom?", the proof is in the performance, and on the evidence of this and others I have heard, Kaplan comes nowhere near a truly probing and comprehensive realisation of the piece.
As a conductor, his handicaps are many. How frustrating it must be to have such strong feelings about a piece and yet be so ill-equipped to express them. His technique is wooden and inhibiting, and the absence of experience in any other repertoire gives his Mahler no context. More seriously, he fails to shape and to characterise, to communicate Mahler's extraordinary nose for drama, for atmosphere, to players and audience.
His first movement was woefully lacking in inner tension, never precarious, never dangerous. Knowing all there is to know about the precise letter of the score means little or nothing if the spirit of what is written does not move us. It's what it means, not what it says that counts.
This "revised critical edition" is largely concerned with subtle refinements in dynamics and balance, but instead of bandying it around like a badge of authority, Kaplan would do well to look again at Mahler's broader brush-strokes - like the headlong approach to the first movement climax, where the sudden drop-out in tempo at "molto pesante" was not even hinted at. It's a shock tactic that should feel like the ground has opened up beneath us. It's the big moment in the first movement, and it passed Kaplan by.
Of course, the Albert Hall opened, as it always does, to the "Judgement Day" theatrics of Mahler's monumental finale. A large chorus and good soloists (Karen Cargill and Sally Matthews) made their mark, and for once the scarifying off-stage band did get closer (as Mahler instructed). That was a first in my experience. Everything else felt predictably second-hand.
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