Tuesday, April 12, 2011 Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
The roar of the crowd said it all, many were on their feet – this Mahler 1 brought the house down. We may live in Mahler-sated times, and this year (the centenary of the composer’s death) and last (150 years since he was born) has been at saturation point in terms of performances of his music. However, a cycle of his symphonies (including “Das Lied von der Erde” but with the Tenth represented by only the opening Adagio) conducted by Lorin Maazel with the Philharmonia Orchestra, which always responds in thriving terms to his mastery, stands out from the crowd.
Not that this first concert began too ceremoniously on paper – with a song-cycle shorter than the interval that follows it (longer, as it turned out); and what a shame that Blumine, the original second movement of Symphony 1, couldn’t have been the wafting stand-alone opener. Not that this small brickbat affected one’s appreciation of Mahler’s settings, thematically related to the Symphony, and here intense with every drop of potential meaning extracted from them, sometimes to halting effect, the music deconstructed before our ears. A lack of flow, and such analysis, might be considered affected, yet singer and conductor seemed at-one – if anything it was Maazel accommodating Michelle DeYoung who sung, acted and gestured vividly, every syllable relished. It may not have convinced (always) but it was certainly interesting.
In the First Symphony Maazel’s compendious conducting technique was on full display, the members of the Philharmonia hanging on his every gesture in a performance always alive with incident, one of expectancy from the off, and a sense of growth palpable with, throughout, an interaction of connective tissue that left in no doubt that every member of the Philharmonia was in complete control of the score’s destiny, so that the final bars simply went into orbit. The first movement’s vernal awakening was on slow-burn, but all was held together; the scherzo was of rustic vitality, the trio suave. The surreal funeral-music of the third movement was led by Christian Geldsetzer’s double bass solo to episodes of inflexions and expressiveness and counterpoints and correspondences, lovingly lyrical, not as macabre as can be but with Klezmer elements underlined. The finale crashed in effectively, its thrust deliberate, slower episodes raptly turned and made belonging to the whole. It was enthralling on its own terms and often with electrifying rightness, a 3D and HD performance, recorded for posterity, brass pulsatingly loud at times yet violins were still heard as bright and meaningful beams. The audience's reception was extraordinary and entirely justified.