That said, Wagners sea captain sentenced to ride the waves forever (ultimately repealed) was here in less choppy waters than usual Andrew Litton navigated a cosy drive rather than conjuring the elements and baring the tormented psyche. But it was a hierarchically well-balanced reading, the outsize wind and brass forces (an NYO trademark), the odd blip aside, not outdoing the strings; the woodwinds played with eloquence and the strings themselves were wonderfully sonorous and unanimous.
Quite rightly the number of players was reduced (if remaining relatively large) for the intimate world of Mahlers songs of love and death and other weighty matters. This was a curiously objective reading: Charlotte Hellekants clarity of utterance and easeful singing was one thing, but her emotional understatement, welcome if angst-free Mahler is desirable, also lacked the musical perception of a Christa Ludwig or the intense identification of a Janet Baker (not the only ways of course). Hellekant was at times a little loud (or the orchestra too discreet), and while there was no doubting the sensitivity from all concerned, it was a little too lightly worn; the cor anglais solo in Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen lingers in the mind.
Strausss Alpine Symphony can be more dangerous and philosophical than Litton prepared it here; and for all that it can be a showpiece, Strausss extravagance is no hindrance to an awe-inspired commentary on ambition and awareness. This performance found the NYO negotiating Strausss demands with remarkable assurance (superb string playing again, and poised woodwinds). If the trumpets at stratospheric pitches were a little daunted, this was, overall, an engrossing rendition on its own terms; in particular those weird and wonderful moments of interior enchantment were here blended and sounded quite magically. In sum, a notable achievement, Litton eschewing bombast and indulgence and emphasising symphonic aspiration above travelogue association rightly so. Under Littons genial and pragmatic direction, the current NYO members shone. For anyone concerned with standards, this was an encouraging evening.
- Concert repeated at St Davids Hall, Cardiff on 16 April and broadcast live on BBC Radio 3