LSO/Gergiev – Mahler 6

Tishchenko, orch. Shostakovich
Cello Concerto No.1
Symphony No.6

Tim Hugh (cello)

London Symphony Orchestra
Valery Gergiev

Reviewed by: Robert Matthew-Walker

Reviewed: 22 November, 2007
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

The cycle of numbered Mahler symphonies (not given in chronological order) by the London Symphony Orchestra under Valery Gergiev continued with the Sixth, preceded by Boris Tishchenko’s Cello Concerto No.1 of 1963 in the version for symphony orchestra by Tishchenko’s then teacher, Dmitri Shostakovich, in which Tim Hugh was the soloist.

Tim Hugh. Photograph: Concerto is a fine work, and begins with a long developmental-cadenza that contains the best music. Eventually, the orchestra enters, and the work changes into a more or less conventional one-movement composition, although the soloist has barely a moment’s respite. The result is a deeply serious work that should be heard more often, although the lack of genuinely memorable ideas (outside the opening five-note phrase) does tend to tell against it. Nonetheless, it received an exemplary account from the most-gifted and enterprising Tim Hugh, very well accompanied by the LSO under Gergiev – for this concert, using a baton throughout, as opposed to his customary baton-free expressive hands.

Not that the LSO needs a baton-wielding conductor, but the Mahler Sixth received a performance of considerable distinction, characterised by total single-mindedness – which this work certainly demands. The first movement was taken very fast, at times almost ignoring Mahler’s ‘ma non troppo’ qualification appended to the Allegro energico indication, but the orchestra was fully up to the demands Gergiev and Mahler placed upon them. This was a reading of great intensity, creating a most powerful impact. Correctly observing the exposition repeat in the first movement and equally correctly placing the Andante moderato second, Gergiev’s tempo for this slow movement was a shade too fast – the impulse of the first movement carrying over in this instance, to the occasional detriment of the music.

This movement is the most sheerly beautiful Mahler ever wrote, and – to make its fullest effect – should surely, emotionally, be the complete opposite of the first movement. A greater degree of inner calm, not to say rumination, is necessary, not only to reflect the emotional and harmonic changes from the first movement. The second movement is in a warm E flat, the farthest possible tonality from the grinding A minor of the first. Sad to relate, this performance hardly ever relaxed fully as it should, although the superb solo wind playing made the most of Mahler’s opportunities.

The third movement, full of irony and grotesquerie, was often superb; no spurious ‘reminiscence’ of the first movement spoiling it, although again one might have wished for a more yielding approach for the formal nature of the trio. The finale was full of the finest fantasy and imagination; omitting the third ‘hammer-blow’ (as Mahler did after the premiere in 1906), the symphony proceeded headlong into the extraordinary coda. But here, where Mahler reveals aspects of the deeper recesses of his mind, Gergiev’s basic tempo was again just a shade too fast, although the intensity and conviction were admirable.

One may disagree with this or that aspect of Gergiev’s approach but there can be no denying that this was a stunning performance of considerable musical belief in the demonstrable fact that Mahler’s Sixth Symphony is a very great and original masterpiece.

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