Human versus fate: Mozart & Mahler

27 August 2017

Review: Asher Fisch conducts Mozart and Mahler, West Australian Symphony Orchestra –
Perth Concert Hall, 25 August –
Review by Talisha Goh –

The inevitability of fate, a dilemma as old as humankind, was presented in this concert by the West Australian Symphony Orchestra (WASO), led by acclaimed conductor Asher Fisch. On the programme were works by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Gustav Mahler, two composers known to have battled against issues of circumstance and destiny during their lives. Yet it was these dire life events that led the composers to produce large-scale orchestral works that were ground-breaking in their own times and beyond, two of which were featured in WASO’s concert.

The first of these was Mozart’s Third Violin Concerto. Whilst exemplifying the general light-heartedness of youth, this concerto was written during the 19-year-old Mozart’s residency in Salzburg; a compositionally fertile, yet miserable time in his career. Violinist Karen Gomyo was a splendid soloist, displaying a mastery of the repertoire with a particularly bright cadenza passage in the first movement. The clarity of the orchestra throughout the lyrical second movement and playful third movement helped to transport us to 18th-century Salzburg, where we might have heard such a performance before Mozart left the court in 1777. Fisch brought out the sensitivity and grace of this violin concerto.

Fisch did a remarkable job in eliciting the full sound spectrum from the musicians. Photo: Emma van Dordrecht.

In the second half of the programme we were transported forward in time, to the turn of the twentieth century. Mahler’s difficult marriage to Alma Schindler (at the time of composition) is certainly reflected in his “Tragic” Symphony No. 6 in A minor, which swings through themes and moods but retains a stubborn, stormy tone throughout the first movement.

Fisch explains that when this work was written, Mahler had originally placed the “Scherzo” movement before the “Andante”. A few years later, however he reversed this order. In this concert, the revised order of “Andante-Scherzo” has been followed. Indeed, the “Andante” was a nice contrast from the “strum und drang” of the first movement, offering something of a reprise before the suspense-laden “Scherzo”.

It is no easy task commanding a Mahler orchestra, including full brass, woodwind, string and percussion sections. Fisch, however, did a remarkable job in eliciting the full sound spectrum from the musicians. One highlight was the unstable “Finale” movement, in which the theme is interrupted by a blow from a large hammer, which Mahler intended to signify the unpredictability and tragedy of destiny. Mahler’s protagonist does not give up easily, however, and this movement shows the strength of the human spirit despite the odds, perhaps a reflection of his own state of affairs at the time. Although the work as a whole is highly turbulent, Fisch did not allow the orchestra to delve into Romantic excess, in keeping with the notion that a turn of fate may be just around the corner.

Pictured top: Asher Fisch and West Australian Symphony Orchestra. Photo: Emma van Dordrecht.


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