Last year’s celebration of Australia’s musical elite diaspora, the Australian World Orchestra, (plus a few resident players) featured Zubin Mehta on the podium. I’ve always regarded Mehta as a superb “technician” but, apart from a wunderkind debut Bruckner Ninth, while still in his twenties with the Vienna Philharmonic,
I’ve never found his interpretations particularly engaging.
However, my reactions to this two CD set of the occasion has somewhat changed my thinking. Their performance of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, in its centenary year, is very fine- without challenging Doráti’s, Bernstein’s first New York version or Igor Markevich’s old Philharmonia (stereo) version where the orchestral shriek at the opening of the second section is truly blood curdling. I don’t think I’ve ever heard the treacherous opening bassoon passage so beautifully shaped. The woodwind is also beautifully captured throughout.
Mehta’s tempi are steady rather than headlong. The performance of Mahler’s First Symphony was a treat. Mehta included the discarded Blumine (“Flowers’) movement ( as he did in his Israel Philharmonic recording in the late eighties) although Mahler was probably right to remove it, as it sounds genuinely, as distinct from faux, naïve. The string playing was of a caliber we seldom hear in Sydney, with the second violins and violas well highlighted.
The fourth movement – an ironic funeral march for a hunter accompanied by the animals he intended to shoot to the tune of Frère Jacques played in a minor key in the central section –Kurt Weill meets klezma – lacked the last ounce of sleaze, but the prodigious finale, where I always think the lush string passages contains the germ of Hollywood film scores, sounded absolutely glorious. It’s edifying to see Australians making a mark in the world away from the pool or sports field.