Sunday, 8 August 2010

Lush, but it ain't Tchaikovsky, Valery

World Orchestra For Peace/Gergiev - Mahler: Symphonies 4 & 5 (Proms, RAH) ****

An hour's queueing was enough to secure a gallery place to watch the world's greatest all-star orchestra on Thursday night. It felt like seeing the Harlem Globetrotters - the fact that it was Gergiev and Mahler made the gig that little bit extra tantalising. The result: a wonderful performance...but memorable Mahler it was not.

The Fourth Symphony isn't one of the blockbusters, indeed it's not one I'm particularly familiar with. The opening was arresting, with an exaggerated tempo change to the string line. Decidedly microtonal intonation marred the second movement - there seemed to be some problem with one of the horns. The third movement passed without incident; the end of the movement is bizarre, with a clashing gears tempo change and unexpected modulation late on. Camilla Tilling's soprano was beautiful throughout the finale, although solo vocals don't carry well up to the rarefied atmosphere in the gallery.

Throughout, the tones produced by the musicians were out of this world. The combined orchestral colours sounded like the Albert Hall organ at times, such was the richness of the sonorities. Strings were superb throughout. Aristocratic horns and clotted cream heavy brass (I particularly liked the tuba), but things were too measured, especially in the Fifth. The oboes didn't yowl, the clarinets weren't petulant enough. The first movement of the Fifth was taken at a majestically sombre pace, the triplets given paramount importance. I liked the interpretation. The second movement had some wonderful moments, notably the exposed cello line which was spinetingling (even hearing it puts an amateur cellist into jitters, it's a horribly stressful passage to play!). The gigantiLändler, a wild, rough jamboree, had too many ballet shoes and not enough clogs. As the movement progresses, it flirts with bitonality, and can feel like a party that's gone out of control as the harmonies and crossrhythms descent into anarchy. There was none of that here. The Adagietto was perfectly balanced, and The Greatest Note In All Music welcoming in the final movement was as pure as can be. Only then, in the final movement, did the orchestra sound truly Mahlerian. There was a swagger in the woodwind and aggression in the brass that had been lacking somewhat.

Had we been hearing Tchaikovsky, this would have been a stupendous performance. As it was, the evening was a masterclass in tight, marshalled orchestral playing. But a little more Mahlerian entropy would not have gone amiss.

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