fri 24/11/2017

BBC Proms: Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester, Gatti | reviews, news & interviews

BBC Proms: Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester, Gatti

BBC Proms: Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester, Gatti

Ecstatic playing from the young musicians of Europe's finest youth orchestra

Frank Peter Zimmermann: muted ferocity but absolute textural and expressive control

In a festival season as long as the BBC Proms there are always going to be some longueurs, weeks where the orchestral playing is more adequate than astonishing. Get stuck in one of these and it’s easy to start doubting your ears, to wonder whether six weeks of orchestral assault have dulled them. Then you hear an ensemble like the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester. A youth orchestra in name alone, there is nothing callow about this elite group of young musicians, who last night under Daniele Gatti coaxed and wrung the Royal Albert Hall audience into ecstasy upon ecstasy.

A great concert grows out of great programming, and this musical journey took us from the sombre contemplation of the Good Friday Music from Parsifal and Berg’s requiem of a Violin Concerto to the madcap emotional whirling of the suite from Rosenkavalier and finally the more sinister transfiguration of the waltz in Ravel’s La Valse. Having ratcheted up the volume and tension to an explosive point of release by the end of the Ravel it was the evening’s final triumph however to hear Gatti and the orchestra return, moving from extroverted climax to sober beauty and the Act III Prelude from Die Meistersinger.

Surfing and gliding among Ravel’s rhythms, Gatti’s control of his forces was masterly, creating the illusion of beats suspended in the air

Youth orchestra playing is most often characterised by its energy, but the outgoing, expansive full orchestral swell. The GMJO however proved last night that they are all about restraint, condensing that same energy into an infinitely small and understated gesture, delicate but somehow charged with possibility. Their pianissimos in the Parsifal extracts were the palest silvery grey among a tone palette of muted colours, with brass bringing stature to their deeper shades.

This restraint persisted into the Berg Violin Concerto, in which the orchestra matched soloist Frank Peter Zimmermann for dignified grief. Zimmermann’s sung tone kept a through-line between the fey, whimsical little monologues of the Andante, but developed a characterful huskiness for the Allegro, darkening mood and colour alike in his controlled rage. This control perhaps muted the concerto’s ferocity at times, but with Gatti ensuring so sensitive a balancing of mood from his orchestra and a pay-off of absolute precision of tuning and texture from Zimmermann himself it was a small gripe.

Riding the post-interval applause into the tumultuous opening the Rosenkavalier suite, Gatti (pictured right) signalled that we were now in another world. The ghost of a waltz in Berg’s concerto became a full-blooded frenzy of a dance here, with the orchestra letting rip fully for the first time in ardent operatic declaration. Gatti flirted with the audience, letting his musicians hover just this side of vulgarity before finally driving them across the boundary with percussion clatter and scream. Hints here of the brutality to come in the Ravel, which would turn the screw one step further on the innocent dance of the start.

Surfing and gliding among Ravel’s rhythms, Gatti’s control of his forces was masterly, creating the illusion of beats suspended in the air while never losing the impulsion of the music and continuity of line. His orchestra gamely followed wherever he led, with strings moving from hazy languor to crazed neurosis, supported by some exquisite work from the woodwind (excellent throughout the evening, with both oboe and clarinet beguiling in the Strauss).

All this and Die Meistersingertoo, so solemn and composed. This is what the Proms is all about – turning up on a Sunday evening to be shaken out of weekend torpor and into life. With the first tier of German orchestral grandees descending on the Royal Albert Hall over the next week last night’s concert may find itself relegated in the season highlights, but I suspect (and hope) that it won’t.

Comments

I agree wholeheartedly with Alexandra Coghlan's review. What she fails to mention, though, was one of the most magical moments of the evening: Frank Zimmerman's Bach encore, which held the Albert Hall spellbound. Some members of the audience had left during the applause for the Berg: how foolish of them, they missed an absolute treat.

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