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Music review: Jacaranda finds Wagner's musical connections

May 23, 2010 | 12:24 pm

In glancing through Ring Festival L.A.’s official guide, you’ll find all kinds of things that seem out to provoke – beginning with Achim Freyer’s production of the “Ring” itself.  Yet Jacaranda – the hardy Santa Monica concert series perched near the edge of the continent – would have none of that, aiming high to put Wagner into perspective Saturday night at the First Presbyterian Church.

RichardWagner The concert was like a pendulum swinging back and forth over the long history of German music, with Wagner occupying the center. Schubert was cast as one of Wagner’s forebears, Mahler as one of his heirs, Hindemith as part of the next generation that rebelled against the hyper-emotional Wagnerian aesthetic.

Hindemith came first, in the form of his seldom-played, yet wonderfully tough, symmetrical and jaunty Septet For Winds. Though the piece dates from 1948, it is actually a throwback to Hindemith’s flaming youth in the 1920s, albeit with the brash vigor and cheeky taunts of old now subsumed in a wiser, gentler warmth that these expert wind players chose to emphasize.

The pendulum then swung back to Schubert with five diversely accompanied songs for male chorus, which made the points of anticipating Wagner’s Romantic musical language, Mahler’s preoccupation with nature, and in the case of the marvelous “Night Song In The Forest,” passages in the Hindemith Septet. “Night Song” proved difficult to coordinate with the four rustic accompanying horns placed in the balcony.  "Song of the Spirits Over the Waters,” with a lower-string quintet producing a bass-rich resonance underneath the eight voices, made the most sublime effect.

Wagner’s “Siegfried Idyll,” of course, brought themes from the “Ring” into play – performed in the original 13-instrument version, with the ensemble easily negotiating conductor Mark Alan Hilt’s fast central tempos and very slow coda.

Finally Mahler went to work, stretching Wagner’s harmonic innovations practically to the limit in the Adagio movement of his Symphony No. 10, as played in Hans Stadlmair’s transcription for strings. 

Stadlmair mostly preserves Mahler’s extraordinary visions, yet in the crunching passage in which Mahler seems to stare into the abyss with a terrifying, piled-on dissonant chord, only to pull back to the safety of tonality, that terror just doesn’t register with violas playing the sustained note instead of a stark lone trumpet. 

Nevertheless, Hilt knew where to linger, where to press ahead – and after this beautifully shaped coda, you almost wished no one would applaud to break the spell.

-- Richard S. Ginell


The Los Angeles Times' Ring Festival coverage

Photo: Richard Wagner.