Thursday 8 November 2018

A Mahler Piano Series: Echoes of the East

Gustav Mahler in 1892
Gustav Mahler in 1892
A Mahler Piano Series: Echoes of the East; Iain Farrington, Stephanie Marshall, Richard Dowling; 1901 Arts Club Reviewed by Anthony Evans on 6 November 2018 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
Mahler's symphonic song-cycle in a version for piano alongside music which influence him.

The 1901 Arts Club is housed in a converted schoolmaster's residence hidden away on Exton Street, Waterloo. Inspired by Europe's salon culture this elegant little venue is currently the location for a Mahler piano series. Pianist and composer Iain Farrington’s concert series explores the bulk of Mahler’s symphonic music arranged for solo piano and a selection of contemporary musical styles that influenced him.

On Tuesday 6 November 2018, concert number nine showcased music inspired by the exoticism of Asia. The first half explored how the exotic tonality of the East influenced Mahler’s contemporaries which ranged from the sublime to the faintly ridiculous, with Iain Farrington being joined by mezzo-soprano Stephanie Marshall and tenor Richard Dowling.

Iain Farrington opened with a supple and sparkling performance of Arensky’s Etude on a Chinese theme, which uses a pentatonic figure shared by Puccini’s Turandot, followed by a delicately dreamlike performance of Satie’s evergreen Trois Gnossiennes. Debussy’s sound world is altogether more impressionistic. A fan of Gamelan music, Pagodes was full of colour and texture. It conjured up images redolent of oriental landscapes. Picking up the pentatonic baton Ravel’s enchanting childhood world of Laideronnette beguiled with its airy lightness. The stand out was the immersive Gamelan by Leopold Godowsky. Gamelan, part of Godowsky’s first “phonorama” languidly pulled me into its smooth and elegant musical landscape. Its repeated cycles acted with hypnotic effect, rising to a peak of operatic grandeur and on to a tranquil and ethereal end.

The first half was completed by Busoni’s enigmatic Turandots Frauengemach with its cheeky coda. Apparently having been convinced that it was an Oriental tune he chose to write a variation on Greensleeves? Oops.

The main draw was Mahler’s canonic piano arrangement of his song-symphony Das Lied von der Erde with the tenor Richard Dowling and mezzo-soprano Stephanie Marshall. This journey from desolation to the ecstasy was at its best when restrained and intimate allowing the nuanced word settings to shine. Its savagery seemed a little too much for the small venue. The bleakness, particularly in “Das Trinklied von Jammer der Erde”, The Drinking Song of Earth’s Sorrow, sounded texturally muddy and the impact of the drunkard’s exaltations, terrifying visions and the tolling refrain “Dunkel ist das Leben” were lost and I began to miss the orchestra.

In contrast the impressionist beauty of “Der Einsame im Herbst” was perfectly pitched, Stephanie Marshall’s introverted melancholy a chill portrait of loneliness. “Von der Jungend”, “Von der Schönheit” and “Der Trunkene im Frühling”, effectively the symphony’s scherzo, worked well too but once again in “Der Abschied”, his intensely personal climax, I found it difficult to completely put the orchestrations out of mind. The funeral march was fearsome and the finely poised search for peace beautiful - just not enough to receive my lonely restless heart.
Reviewed by Anthony Evans

A Mahler Piano Series
Concert 9 : Echoes of the East
1901 Arts Club
Tuesday 6 November 2018
Piano : Iain Farrington
Mezzo-soprano : Stephanie Marshall
Tenor : Richard Dowling

Anton Arensky : Etude on a Chinese theme
Erik Satie : Trois Gnossiennes
Claude Debussy : Pagodes
Maurice Ravel : Laideronnette
Leopold Godowsky : Gamelan
Ferruccio Busoni : Turandots Frauengemach

Gustav Mahler : Das Lied von der Erde

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