Monday, June 10, 2024

Mahler 5


Jessie Montgomery: Coincident Dances

Michael Daugherty: Songs of the Open Road for Oboe, Horn and Orchestra
(World Premiere)

Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 5

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra
Manfred Honeck, conductor

Cynthia Koledo DeAlmeida, oboe
William Caballero, horn

Pittsburgh, Heinz Hall, June 9, 2024

Manfred Honeck

(Scroll down for English translation)

Man kann sich natürlich fragen, weshalb eigentlich für Klassik-Konzerte immer wieder dieselben alten Schlachtrösser programmiert werden -- Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, Bruckner, und eben Mahler. So ähnlich habe ich neulich auch gesprächsweise gefragt, weshalb eigentlich immer neue Bücher zum Thema Krautrock erscheinen, einem Thema, das doch eigentlich längst abgedroschen sein müsste. 

Lassen wir mal außen vor, dass gerade amerikanische Orchester zusehen müssen, woher sie ihr Geld bekommen, sie sind ja nicht staatlich subventioniert. Aber selbst, wenn sie subventioniert wären, wäre das falsch gedacht: Denn immer wieder sind neue Besucher da, die Mahlers Fünfte noch nie live im Konzertsaal gehört haben -- wenn sie sie überhaupt je gehört haben. Und für sie kann so ein Konzert ein lebenslang prägendes Erlebnis werden. Und in vergleichbarer Weise kann auch die Beschäftigung mit frühen Krautrock-Bands (oder überhaupt Bands, deren Mitglieder eigentlich schon das Rentenalter überschritten haben) für so manchen ein neues Abenteuer sein. Wer mal erlebt hat, wie begeistert die Kids sein können, wenn Papa sie zum ersten Mal mit zu einem Kraftwerk-Konzert mitgenommen hat, weiß das.

Dass das Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (PSO) zu einem Klangkörper gereift ist, der in die Top-Liga der amerikanischen Orchester gehört, spricht sich allmählich herum, wenn auch noch nicht so, wie es wünschenswert wäre. Und wenn eine Mahler-Sinfonie so dargeboten wird wie hier, dann bitte gern mehr von solchen Schlachtrössern. 

Das Orchester hat eine Fähigkeit, die ich bei anderen Orchestern selten so erlebt habe, und ich bin auch keineswegs mehr der Einzige, dem sie aufgefallen ist: Es kann extreme Lautstärken ebenso wie leisestes Flüstern bei größter Präzision präsentieren, und Maestro Honeck ist ein Dirigent, der diese Fähigkeit einzusetzen weiß. Und so flogen einem bei der Mahler-Sinfonie gelegentlich die Ohren weg. Man glaubt gar nicht, dass ein Orchester solche Lautstärken überhaupt erreichen kann. Aber Mahler ist ein Komponist, der immer wieder Momente bietet, in denen das gefordert ist. Und na gut, dass die Blechbläser dieses Orchesters tendenziell gern ein bisschen zu laut sind, ist nicht neu; das war mir schon vor 15 Jahren aufgefallen. Man kann damit leben. Vielleicht liegt es auch einfach an der Akustik der Halle.

Dass im übrigen auch Premieren ins Programm genommen werden, wie in diesem Fall Michael Daugherties Songs for the Open Road, ist zu begrüßen; dass die Solisten aus dem PSO stammen, desgleichen. Der Komponist war anwesend, die Besucher hatten vor dem Konzert die Möglichkeit, ein Gespräch mit ihm zu hören und Fragen zu stellen. -- Ein schönes Werk, nebenbei. Fast wie ein Road Movie. Und wer heute noch glaubt, dass neue Musik zwangsläufig zwölftönig sein muss, irrt. Die Komponisten sind längst weiter.

Of course, one might ask oneself why the same old warhorses are always programmed for classical concerts - Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, Bruckner, and just Mahler. In a similar way, I recently asked in conversation why there are always new books being published on the subject of Krautrock, a subject that should really have been hackneyed long ago.

Let's ignore the fact that American orchestras in particular have to find out where they get their money from, since they are not subsidized by the state. But even if they were subsidized, it would be a mistake to think this way: Because there are always new visitors who have never heard Mahler's Fifth live in a concert hall - if they ever heard it at all. And for them, such a concert can be a life-changing experience. And in a similar way, engaging with early Krautrock bands (or bands in general whose members are actually already past retirement age) can be a new adventure for many. Anyone who has ever experienced how excited kids can be when dad takes them to a Kraftwerk concert for the first time knows this.

The fact that the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (PSO) has matured into an orchestra that belongs in the top league of American orchestras is gradually getting around, even if not as much as we would like. And if a Mahler symphony is performed as it is here, then please let's see more of these warhorses.

The orchestra has a skill that I have rarely heard in other orchestras, and I am by no means the only one who has noticed it: it can present extreme volumes as well as the quietest whispers with the greatest precision, and Maestro Honeck is a conductor who knows how to use these skills. And so the Mahler Symphony occasionally made your ears fly off. You wouldn't believe that an orchestra can even reach such volumes. But Mahler is a composer who repeatedly offers moments where this is required. And well, the fact that the brass section of this orchestra tends to be a bit too loud is nothing new; I noticed that 15 years ago already. One can live with that. Maybe it's just the acoustics of the hall.

The fact that premieres are also included in the program, such as in this case Michael Daughertie's Songs for the Open Road, is to be welcomed; the fact that the soloists come from the PSO is also a good thing. The composer was present, and the audience had the opportunity to hear a conversation with him and ask questions before the concert. -- A beautiful work, by the way. Almost like a road movie. And anyone who still believes that new music has to be twelve-tone is wrong. Composers have long since moved on.

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Can: Live in Aston 1977


This is the fifth of Can's "Live in ..." series, recorded again by some audience member, this time even in stereo -- these tiny little walkman units with stereo mics that came up in the late seventies made it possible. The sound quality is not bad, especially when using headphones.

This recording shows Can with a new line-up, as it was to be heard already on their album Saw Delight of the same year. Holger Czukay had given up the bass and handed it over to Rosco Gee of Traffic. Instead bass, Holger now added sound samples, using a shortwave radio and his famous dictaphone. The radio and the pre-recorded sounds on the dictaphone he could integrate into the live music with a morse key. Mostly the samples he uses are well known already -- mainly they come from Holger's solo albums Movies and Canaxis. But there's also a telephone which Holger used to randomly call people and integrate their clueless "Hello ...?" into the ongoing music.

While these external sounds work fine on Holger's own recordings and relatively well on Can's (dummyhead mixed) album Saw Delight, it does not really work in this live set. Holger's sounds remain in the background here and aren't making much sense -- one might get the impression they were more conceded than accepted. Holger left Can with the following album, Out Of Reach, and somehow you can feel the loss already here.

Anyways, Rosco Gee delivers a solid and sometimes funky bass fundament. The band somehow seems to anticipate already the overall sounds of their following LPs Out Of Reach (the only Can album that somehow failed), and the self-titled Can, which finished the chapter Can in 1979.

Live in Aston 1977 has four tracks, two long ones and two shorter ones, all in all around 45 minuted of playing time. "Two" is clearly an improvised version of their famous "Vitamin C", Damo's vocals are played here by guitar. In "Three", Irmin spurs his Alpha-77 unit (which contains mainly ring modulation and filters). There are also some keyboard hints to "Vernal Equinox" from the Landed album. In general, Jaki's drums tend to clatter along a bit, while Irmin's Farfisa organ is a bit too much in the foreground. But don't forget the source -- probably the bootlegger sat somewhere in front of him.