Crossing the Alps [World premiere]
Symphony No.2 (Resurrection)
Susan Gritton (soprano) & Katarina Karnéus (mezzo-soprano)
Hallé Choir & Hallé Youth Choir
Reviewed by: Helen Pearce
Reviewed: 28 January, 2010
Venue: Bridgewater Hall, Manchester
Read anything about Mahler, and you will doubtless be treated to a quotation of his statement that “the symphony must be like the world, it must embrace everything”. Unimaginative as it may seem, I, too, feel compelled to invoke this declaration, if only because this idea was so central to the Hallé’s performance of Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’ Symphony. The orchestra clearly revelled in the striking contrasts characteristic of the composer’s style in its first contribution to the “Mahler in Manchester 2010” celebration; a joint venture with the BBC Philharmonic and Manchester Camerata.
The first movement combined wistful lyricism with violent outbursts of energy, skilfully controlled by Markus Stenz in anticipation of the climaxes to follow. In an admirable pursuit of extremes, the occasional imperfection filtered into the wind and brass solos, but these were risks worth taking. The graceful Ländler of the second movement gave ample opportunity for the Hallé strings, on typically fine form, to show off their distinctive silky sound, while the scherzo swirled and snarled in a suitably devilish fashion.
The intimate fourth movement allowed us momentarily to forget the vast orchestral and choral forces lining the stage of the sold-out concert hall. Katarina Karnéus provided an oasis of calm to sensitive string accompaniment and expressive wind solos before a shriek of anguish from the orchestra announced the earth-shattering finale. Again, the Hallé delighted in the narrative element of the symphony, with each section relishing a chance in the limelight. Not to forget those out of the limelight; off-stage brass interjections were immaculately executed and well balanced. Spine-tingling moments were in no short supply, not least during the haunting flute and piccolo passage in which Mahler sought to evoke a nightingale singing over the graves like some “last tremulous echo of earthly life”. Cue the chorus, its members stealing in with a mesmerising pianissimo, rising to their feet only for the final ecstatic apotheosis.
Mahler’s uplifting exploration of the meaning of life found an echo in Colin Matthews’s “Crossing the Alps”, which opened the concert. Composed for eight-part a cappella chorus and setting texts from William Wordsworth’s “The Prelude”, the work celebrates the liberation of the imagination. Colourful, subtly-shifting harmonies are built up, with the layers of sounds occasionally cascading down like waterfalls and evoking the journey suggested by the title. Matthew’s unostentatious offering was well-judged in light of the drama yet to come.