Symphony No.6 in A minor
London Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield
Reviewed: 27 November, 2002
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
Expectations ran high for this concert (repeated tonight, 28 November), especially after Mariss Jansons’s pair of Barbican concerts with the LSO last November and his freshly-minted performances of Strauss and Dvořák at this year’s Proms. Jansons’s Mahler 6 is destined for LSO Live.
There were elements of a strong searchlight uncovering sonorities that seemed to have passed me by before. The harps had a particularly vibrant twang and John Alley’s celeste rang out clearer than I’ve ever heard. However, the off-stage cowbells were often too distant (and it is a measure of the sometimes still-tricky Barbican acoustic that at first I thought the player must have been situated somewhere outside the Second Tier!). The off-stage tubular bells also sounded an awry note at the beginning of the final movement, which took a while to settle.
However to compensate for those few infelicities there was much beauty and security in the LSO’s playing. Particular mention should be made (again) of Maurice Murphy on the trumpet, as well as David Pyatt, principal horn. The nine basses added both purpose and “oomph” to the opening tread, and the packed wind section also distinguished themselves. Certainly Jansons could tease out the chamber music elements of the score, paring the musical texture down so that individual details would tell clearly.
Despite the programme’s insistence that the ’Scherzo’ would be placed second, Jansons (as he told our esteemed editor for an interview in “What’s On in London” this week) prefers Mahler’s original – and, it seems, final – scheme, with the ’Adagio’ second. The recent discovery in Jerusalem of a score of Mahler’s First Symphony, full of his pencilled emendations, only goes to reaffirm that he changed his mind constantly. This makes a definitive answer to many of these questions impossible to fathom. Suffice to say that even if he tried the ’Adagio’ second on just one occasion, it is still a viable option to play it that way today. I have to say I have always liked this scheme for Mahler Six (Rattle adopts it) – otherwise the merciless stride of the first movement with the ’Scherzo’ following negate each other. The ’Scherzo’ stutters to an uneasy but quiet close, so certainly doesn’t jar in its preparation for the opening crash of the ’Finale’. Only the bout of the orchestra tuning unsettled the flow and, as I’ve said, it seemed to distract ensemble for a few minutes. Perhaps understandably, for a conductor who has been taken ill on the podium, Jansons kept to just two hammerblows.
It only remains to relate that the final, haunting, trombone and tuba chorale was ruined by the heaviest breather I have heard (a menace from the first two instalments of the ENO/Barbican Ring Cycle) and a watch alarm announcing 9pm.