If you've ever run into an old flame you haven't encountered for years, then you know what I'm talking about. OK, so you fell out of love – maybe – and you thought it was all over. Not much left except memories.
But when you meet again – say, at a party – sometimes the sparks fly, and you know just why you were so in love in the first place. And you may just feel a tinge of regret at having lost that love.
The %u201Cparty” I recently attended where I met an old flame was the Hungarian National Philharmonic's concert at the Palace of Arts (MÜPA) on Feb 9. My old flame was the Gustav Mahler Eighth Symphony. And the sparks flew, let me tell you.
The %u201CDJ” at this huge party was Zoltán Kocsis, who conducted the amassed forces of the Philharmonic, the National Chorus, the Hungarian Radio Chorus, the Budapest Chorus, the Hungarian Radio Children's Chorus, and eight vocal soloists. I figure there must have been 4-500 performers there.
It was like seeing my old flame again, wrapped in a brilliant scarlet dress, absolutely gorgeous and irresistibly attractive.
In my youth, I was in love with the Mahler Eighth, was swept away by its wall of sound grandiosity on the one hand, its delicate chamber music orchestration on the other, its inventive setting of the closing scene of Goethe's Faust … the Eighth had it all.
But as the years passed, I fell out of love. I found more lasting relationships with other Mahler symphonies. It became more of a fond memory. Like one of Bluebeard's wives lovingly sequestered behind that last door in his castle.
But when Kocsis opened up that door again and revealed the %u201CSymphony of a Thousand” (Mahler hated that epithet) in all its power and ear-splitting glory, I found myself smitten once again.
To start with, Kocsis jumped right into the piece with a brisk tempo that should have left all those musicians in disarray, unable to keep up. But no, he kept tight discipline, and the effect of up to 500 performers all ripping away at full blast was simply awesome. My ears were hurting from all that glorious noise.
Energy, shaping of phrases, avoidance of mawkish sentimentality, emotional authenticity – Kocsis and his crew put everything in place.
With all those children singing as though their lives depended on it, with soprano soloist Tünde Szabóki effortlessly riding that huge crest of sound to top it all off, and with the extra brass choir way up in the crow's nest raining down glory from Heaven, this performance of the Eighth aimed its Cupid's arrow at my heart and struck true. It was love all over again. Spiritual love.
It may seem a far cry from the excesses of late Romantic gigantism to the more sedate world of Baroque oratorio some 200 years earlier, but, in fact, the idea of the triumph of spiritual love does join Mahler's next-to-last symphony with Georg Frideric Handel's very first oratorio, Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno (The Triumph of Time and Enlightenment, 1707), which will be performed by the Combattimento Consort Amsterdam at the MÜPA on Thursday, Feb 26.
Unlike Mahler's symphony, which relies on an enormous orchestra, multiple choruses and numerous singers to proclaim its message, Il trionfo resorts to just four singers, no chorus and a modest orchestra.
(The Budapest Sun, February 21, 2008)