Mahler: Symphony of a Thousand
Taiwan Philharmonic, choruses, soloists
National Concert Hall, Taipei
This performance of Mahler's Symphony No. 8 could be ranked as the best yet in China.
It united Taiwan's two best orchestras (the Philharmonic plus the Taipei Symphony, with 160 players), four choruses of over 300 voices and eight distinguished vocal soloists.
Other performances - an organ-less production in Beijing, an outdoor amplified version in Macau and an amateur orchestra's Hong Kong premiere - all fell short in one way or another. But the Taiwanese production rose to the top in terms of commitment and artistry.
Combining this many musical forces over two long movements is no easy thing. But Shao-chia Lu, musical chief of the Taiwan Philharmonic, did much more than that. His minimal yet effective conducting was inspiring rather than controlling, and allowed the different sections of the orchestra to breathe. Some sections, such as the brass, may not have been as refined as their European counterparts. But the aggregate effect, and the general musical flow in both lyrical passages and fortissimo climaxes, were immaculate.
By placing four trumpets and three trombones on the side balcony, the orchestral volume and drama was lifted considerably in the first movement's build-up. The effect was ecstatic.
The orchestra turned atmospheric in the lengthy but quiet prelude in part 2, until the fortissimo pizzicato outburst of the cellos and basses. The chorus, including a 42-strong children's choir, sang beautifully with fine articulation and good diction.
Korean tenor Ki-chun Park 's handling of the high tessitura was memorable, as was Swedish soprano Irene Theorin's radiance on the top line. Liang Li, the bass from the mainland, and five local star vocalists, sang with a lyricism that underlined the interpretational flow of Lu.