Rosamunde – Overture (Die Zauberharfe); Entr’acte in B flat; Entr’acte in B minorMahler
Des Knaben Wunderhorn [selection]
Three Pieces for Orchestra, Op.6
Matthias Goerne (baritone)
London Symphony Orchestra
Michael Tilson Thomas
Reviewed by: Bob Briggs
Reviewed: 8 November, 2009
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
It was good to see Michael Tilson Thomas back in front of his old orchestra – the LSO – and to hear them making some fine music together.
That said, I am not sure if the Rosamunde music was such a good choice for a starter. The performances of these three absolutely delicious pieces seemed laboured and the first violins sounded rather wiry. The main allegro of the Overture never really took flight, and the coda, which foreshadows the first movement of the ‘Great C major’ Symphony, was uneventful whereas the rhythm should have been sprung and lively. The lovely B flat Entr’acte felt bland and the B minor Entr’acte – which, it is conjectured, could be the finale or a reworking of the finale to the ‘Unfinished’ Symphony – needed much more heft to it, in order to make it the symphonic movement it is supposed to be.
Things improved for the Mahler. Matthias Goerne is a fine advocate for this music and he chose four very serious songs concerned with soldiers, war and death, a funny one concerning St Antony preaching to the fishes who seem unperturbed by his prayers and ‘Urlicht’, which found its rightful home in the ‘Resurrection’ Symphony. Sometimes I find Goerne to be a tad too intense and this was no exception, for there was insufficient light and shade – for instance, the first song he gave – ‘Lied des Verfolgten im Turm’ (Song of the prisoner in the tower) – is a dialogue between the prisoner and his beloved, yet without this knowledge, you would never have known it for Goerne sang every line with more or less the same emphasis and without real differentiation: too much intensity and not enough tenderness.
After the interval MTT increased the number of strings – in preparation for the Berg – and Blumine (originally the second movement of Mahler’s Symphony No.1) sounded splendid with such a shimmer of strings as a backdrop to the lonely trumpet serenade. It was Berg’s Three Pieces for Orchestra that brought the best playing of the evening, as well as the most thoughtful interpretation. Starting from unpitched percussion rumblings, Berg creates a quite fantastic tapestry of sound, punctuated by huge climaxes, and plateaus of quietness, in music which veers between expressionism and romantic – Richard Straussian – lushness. The orchestra is very large but every instrument is necessary in making sense of Berg’s argument. The final ‘March’ was overwhelming in its concentration and power, and the very end unleashed a frightening eruption of noise. It was magnificent, and well worth waiting for.