Sunday 18 November 2018

An atmospheric and intriguing journey into the life of Alma Mahler

Alma Mahler (c.1902)
Alma Mahler (c.1902)
Art Sung: Alma Mahler; Lorena Paz Nieto, Jon Stainsby, Elizabeth Mucha; London Song Festival at Hinde Street Methodist Church Reviewed by Anthony Evans on 14 November 2018 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
The life and art of Alma Mahler evoked in words and music

How do you solve a problem like Alma?

You can’t. About all that we can agree on is that she was a beauty of fierce intelligence and with the charisma that invited adoration; “How beautiful she was, and how seductive she looked”. Apart from that, pretty much everything else that we think we know is tainted and it would take a better person than I to find the truth of it. "It is now plain that Alma did not just make chance mistakes and 'see things through her own eyes'. She also doctored the record". Everything was harnessed to her own self-esteem.

On Wednesday November 14 at Hinde Street Methodist Church, as part of the London Song Festival, her compelling story was told in a dramatized song recital, a combination of music, drama and artwork, that placed Alma and her conflicted relationship with Gustav Mahler in its musical and cultural context, performed by soprano Lorena Paz Nieto, baritone Jon Stainsby, pianist Elizabeth Mucha and actor Sandy Walsh.

Art Sung – Alma Mahler was an atmospheric and intriguing journey into the life of Alma Schindler devised by Elizabeth Mucha.
The diaries and letters, sympathetically read by the actress Sandy Walsh, were fascinating. At the heart of the concert were Alma’s songs, sung with style and sensitivity by Lorena Paz Nieto and Jon Stainsby, which were juxtaposed with other repertoire by Mahler, Schumann and Beethoven amongst others.

If it’s only through Alma’s songs that we can see the truth of her I certainly didn’t get an overbearing sense of the morbid in her music. “Never have I written a cheerful song” she proclaimed and yet the portrait that emerged was of a tempestuous nature verging on the histrionic. There was an eroticism and flirtatiousness too, at times a charming sweetness, and even something genuinely haunting in “Ich wandle unter blumen”. Did we hear the real Alma? A glimpse maybe. “Nobody shall ever win me” she claimed, and it showed.

So, what of the rest of her output? Of the 100 songs she claimed to have written, only 14 of the 17 extant, those edited by Mahler, were published. For fifty or more years she was almost the sole source of material not only about herself but of her husband and whilst tempting as it is to give into the idea of the femme fatale, the truth is, I fear, something nearer to Siegfried Lipiner’s view of her as “devoid of…sincerity…”.

Elsewhere on this blog:
  • Widening the audience: I chat to Christopher Glynn about his Schubert in English project - interview
  • Staging the unstageable: Britten's War Requiem at English National Opera (★★★★) - opera review
  • Rare Tchaikovsky and Smyth: an earlier version of the piano concerto and Smyth's large-scale mass at the Barbican  (★★★★) - concert review
  • Elgar, Finzi, Parry, Walton from a different angle: arrangements for brass septet  (★★★★) - CD review
  • Love & Prayer: Nadine Benjamin debut solo album (★★★★) - CD review
  • A sense of subtext: Joe Cutler's Elsewhereness on NMC (★★★★) - CD review
  • Otherwordly concerns: Anderswelt - Marlis Petersen and Camillo Radicke in late-Romantic lieder (★★★★) - CD review
  • Late genius and two sextets: Strauss, Haydn and Brahms at Conway Hall  (★★★½)  - concert review
  • Iconic but flawed: La Bayadère the Royal Ballet  - ballet review
  • Reformation Remainers: Musicians, zealots and loyalists in Tudor England at BREMF - concert review
  • In Remembrance - choral discs commemorating the centenary of the Armistice  - CD review
  • Spirito: Latvian soprano Marina Rebeka in bel canto scenes (★★★★½) - CD review
  • A Mahler Piano Series: Echoes of the East  (★★★½) - concert review
  • All he wanted to do was make people cry  - article
  •  Home

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