Sunday, February 14, 2010

Vladimir Ashkenazy, Mahler, Shostakovich, Caetani, and does Tim Dick live in Melbourne?

It being Sunday, loon pond is taking a break from its regular diet of commentariat columnist loons to celebrate the start of the new Sydney Symphony orchestra's season under Vladimir Ashkenazy.

Unfortunately it's been a long time since Tim Dick's classic There's just no sound argument for being hooked on classics, so we have no convenient excuse for celebrating the classics. A Dick classic like that only comes along every so often. That's why we're dedicating the excerpt from Babi Yar (above) to him. (A little humour goes a long way even in Russia, even after Stalin kindly died, but no matter how much they try, they'll never kill humour).

Instead, in a post Dick world, we'll have to settle for the short notice on the opening to the Mahler season provided by Peter McCallum in The first step into Mahler's universe. By golly, for what was once a paper of record, the record of Sydney's cultural life is getting shorter and shorter notices.

Unlike McCallum, on the night we attended we thought baritone Markus Eiche's interpretation of the four Songs of the Wayfarer was both fierce and fine, but then here at loon pond, under the stress and barrage of relentless commentariat columnists, world weariness is a way of life.

How did it go again?

They have a red-hot knife,
those commentariat columnists
A knife in my chest.
Ah, pain! Ah, pain! It cuts so deep
through every joy and pleasure,
So deep, so deep.

As for Mahler's first, Ashkenazy and the band pitched in with gusto, and along with the energy, it's now possible to hear a little rawness and edge, so that the last movements went over the top in a grand manner. Ashkenazy might be shaking a little of the dust from the old dame's clothes, because the band seemed enthused and engaged, and as a result got an enthusiastic, engaged response, but where delicacy and nuance were required, he didn't leave them out of the picture (though as both Richard Strauss and Mahler can take a fair share of the blame for many of the gestures to be found in various genres of film music, let's remember they were also showmen).

Doing the survey of Mahler's work is a two year long cycle, which will make for a very engaging two years.

Now if only we could have a Shostakovich cycle.

Oh I know that in Melbourne things got very tense, and it was rumoured that Oelg Caetani's departure from the role of chief conductor might have been inspired by his relentless desire to bring Melburnians into the twentieth century, not least by including plenty of Shostakovich (Melbourne Symphony Orchestra looks to move on from discord).

Well they are sometimes a little strange in Melbourne, almost a bit Adelaide, in terms of artistic feuds, as you might gather if you read all the details in Robin Usher's Does an orchestra really need a chief conductor? Oh it was a fine old fuss on the pond, with reports of the intrigue all over the place, as in No cadenza as conductor Caetani takes his baton home.

As for the gossip about Caetani spending too much time on Shostakovich? Well it's just common fish mongers' gossip, but you can find it here at Amazon, along with reader reviews of Caetani's Shostakovich cycle, if you like to read something in print when it really is something better suited to the ether.

Ah Melbourne what a funny old heart breaking town you are. Of course Caetani should have been let go. How could anyone go to sleep during a Shostakovich symphony, what with all the bashing and the clashing. Fancy wanting to spend time with the twentieth century's greatest composer of symphonies and string quartets.

Even now Tim Dick rolls around in his bed having nightmares, shrieking out into the darkness, not the Shostakovich, anything but the Shostakovich.

Fancy arranging and leading the MSO in the Australian premiere of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 13 (the Babi Yar featured above) on the 7th August 2008, which was first performed in Moscow in 1962! Why that's only a forty six gap before it got to the antipodes.

Who said the colonies didn't keep up with the rest of the world?

So please maestro Ashkenazy, while you're whipping up a Mahler storm, remember that Sydney siders are tough. We're not like stodgy Melburnians, their world view influenced by the brown mud of the Yarra.

We can handle bold choices. That Shostakovich symphony number 10 you did was a blast.

So how about a Babi Yar before you leave these shores?

Meanwhile another taster if you're not from Melbourne, and you fancy yourself up to speed with the twentieth century.

Admittedly, YouTube's not the way to watch, or listen to classical music, but what the heck, it's just a taster. And if you don't like it, you can always shift to Melbourne, where the pond is inclined to a quiet, solid, Hawthorn way of life ...

Update: for those who might be wondering, I believe this performance is by the chorus and orchestra of the Marinsky Theatre (Kirov Opera), conducted by Valery Gergiev, with the late-substitute bass soloist Mikhail Petrenko. Remaining parts are on YouTube, just click through. A brief notice on the 2006 Prom performance here.


  1. Yay, three cheers for a Shostakovich cycle. I'd love to hear a nice lively full performance of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk !

    But I'm from Melbourne, so I'd settle for a Vaughan Williams cycle. That's 20th Century, isn't it ?

  2. Ouch, how did you know I love Vaughan Williams? You Melburnian psychics are unnerving. Well I'll give you a palpable hit, provided we can agree to exclude Hugh the Drover!

  3. I was seized, as by an alien power, probably from the Pleiades, and forced into an automatic writing channel.

    Oh all right, we can forego Hugh the Drover. I can't recall that ABCFM, in their ineluctable wisdom, have ever broadcast it anyway.


Comments older than two days are moderated and there will be a delay in publishing them.