sun 14/07/2024

Mahler 2, LPO, Gardner, RFH review - an interpretation of superlative resonance and clarity | reviews, news & interviews

Mahler 2, LPO, Gardner, RFH review - an interpretation of superlative resonance and clarity

Mahler 2, LPO, Gardner, RFH review - an interpretation of superlative resonance and clarity

LPO Principal Conductor's spiritually open, intellectually rigorous approach pays off

Epic vision: Edward Gardner opens the latest LPO season at the Southbank CentreAll images LPO

Epic and intimate, philosophically anguished and rhapsodically transcendent, Mahler’s "Resurrection" Symphony remains one of the most mountainous challenges of the orchestral repertoire. For the opening of the Southbank’s new season Edward Gardner and the London Philharmonic Orchestra delivered an interpretation of superlative resonance and clarity, in which it felt that we explored every detail of the foothills as well as the earth-shaking views from the top.

The vigorous attack of the LPO strings at the start of the Allegro maestoso made for a dynamic, athletically poised start, before the woodwind introduced the theme with a quiet luminosity that made it shine like metallic ore in rock. Famously its form is that of a funeral march, but this beautiful, muted delivery seemed to contain within it sparks of the optimism that would – by the end of the symphony – blaze out from the depths of grief.  

While very quickly we felt the impact of the orchestra in full roar – complete with the titanic clash of cymbals – this was a performance in which the still, calm voices rang out. The sweet yearning of a violin solo, or a haunting meditation on the oboe were allowed full space to breathe, even as we were aware of the subterranean rumbles that could overwhelm them at any moment. You could almost sense Gardner daring himself to see how much he could hold back the volume and tempo, so that every nuance of Mahler’s creative journey could be felt. When he did allow the full eruption to occur, with thunderous kettle drums and the fraught percussion of double bass bows hitting their strings, the effect was all the greater for it. Gardner and the LPO in Mahler 2In the Andante Moderato, described by Mahler as “a blissful moment in the hero’s life and a mournful memory of youth and lost innocence”, that same sense of meticulous attention to detail underpinned the beatific serenity. The LPO’s playing was as crystal clear as a mountain lake, though as before, there were moments of agitation hinting at trouble lying in the depths. Composed in three time, at points it shifted from quasi-pastoral contemplation to the poise and elegance of a dance. With the entrance of the harps the atmosphere became more otherworldly in anticipation of the chaos to come.

The Scherzo is one of the more tricky movements to navigate in terms of tone, and here Gardner’s simultaneously spiritually open and intellectually rigorous approach really paid off. The music tilts between the farcical and the apocalyptic; the theme based on Mahler’s Wunderhorn setting of St Anthony of Padua preaching to the fish – in which the composer himself joked that St Anthony sounded drunk – is succeeded by a triple forte “death shriek” at the movement’s climax.

We felt the full gravitas of the timpani opening, before the woodwind and strings introduced the more humorous, sinuously playful melodies. Then, as if from nowhere, the orchestra erupted into full hurricane mode. Even at this level, there was no sense of chaos, more the manifestation of elemental power, thrilling in all its detail. When the calm descended again it carried with it a sense of expectation.  LPO Mahler 2That was more than met by the hypnotically beautiful solo in D flat major from mezzo-soprano Beth Taylor (pictured above, left of the two soloists) for the fourth movement’s opening "Primordial light". In the restrained grief of her voice you could hear every element of the philosophical anguish as she expressed the longing to reach eternal life.

Then we were whipped up into the final movement, adding offstage horns and (eventually, with immense significance) the London Philharmonic Choir with members of the BBC Symphony Chorus. As the strings swirled with the fury of a tornado and the brass added fire, heightened by the cymbals’ thunderous clashes, there was the sense that we were – as Mahler himself said – being raised up on angel’s wings. Not, it should be said, an angel in an anodyne Christmas card sense, but in the epic sense of Milton’s great warriors doing battle beyond the stratosphere. With her quietly ravishing ‘O Glaube, mein Herz” soprano Sally Matthews (pictured above, right of the two soloists) introduced the sense of light breaking through the darkness, before the full choir and then the orchestra, accompanied by church bells, swept us through to Mahler’s vision of eternity.



Look very closely and you will see the chorus was joined by Roderick Williams!  he seemed to be having a wonderful time.

What an amazing review. I wish I had been there, but knowing the work a bit, it was fun to read.  

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