Manfred Honeck, of the parish of Pittsburgh (and about to embark on a European tour with his Symphony Orchestra), here stood in for an indisposed Sir Colin Davis, and drew from the LSO an account of Mozart’s ‘Jupiter’ Symphony that the knight would have greatly appreciated: this was a bold and thrilling reading that made few concessions to the period-informed brigade. All repeats were observed throughout save, unfortunately, for the all-important second repeat of the finale, much missed in this most-glorious and perfect music. The outer movements were driven with propulsive energy which was exhilarating. Pleasing, too, were balances: timpani blazed without obliterating and the horns were ‘embedded’ and supportive of the strings’ interplay. The slow movement was executed with care, strings cushioning but with a hint of a dark-edged heartbeat, and the Minuet was short and sweet.
The performance of twelve songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Youth's Magic Horn) could be thought of as 'complete' because 'Urlicht' was incorporated into the 'Resurrection' Symphony and 'Es sungen drei Engel' was written specifically for the Third Symphony. Both were removed from the collection published after 1901. These words are often trivial, so Mahler was able to incorporate the voice as an instrument equal to any in the orchestra, and wrote superb music. So, ignore the words and instead focus on how the voice and orchestra gel.
Hearing all these songs together can cause problems of differentiation between them; Wunderhorn-overload was certainly felt. Nevertheless, fantasy, colour, chills and laughs were conjured from the partnership of Ian Bostridge and Dorothea Röschmann in a few of the settings: his side-swipe dismissal of her heart in 'Verlorne müh'!' (Lost Labour) was full of youthful impudence, and in 'Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen' (Where the Beautiful Trumpets Sound) – placed last – Röschmann's delicate soprano matched beautifully Bostridge's comforting tenor, utterly sublime when asking his "darling" not to cry.
Bostridge alone found great depth with 'Der Tambourgesell' (The Drummer Boy), the boy's tragic resignation to his fate conjured from the orchestra closing-in on the fading voice. 'Revelge' (Reveille) was rightly dispatched in nonchalant fashion by the frequent "tralali, tralalei, tralala" outbursts tripping off his tongue in easy fashion. The seriousness he brought to 'Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt' (St Anthony of Padua's Sermon to The Fishes) contrasted nicely with the irony embedded in the music: bitingly funny. Whilst Röschmann was not as 'individual' with her songs, she nevertheless dispatched them with aplomb: 'Das irdische Leben' (Earthly Life) was layered with longing, her voice at-one with the orchestra. The LSO played superbly, with well-judged balances so that the singers were not overwhelmed.