wed 29/01/2020

CBSO, Nelsons, Symphony Hall, Birmingham | reviews, news & interviews

CBSO, Nelsons, Symphony Hall, Birmingham

CBSO, Nelsons, Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Mahler's last completed masterpiece almost too exciting

Andris Nelsons: Highly gestural but everything comes from the score
Mahler cycles in his centenary year are about as predictable as dead leaves in autumn. But they perhaps belong more in Birmingham than in some other cities. Mahler, after all, was a big factor in making Simon Rattle’s name, and Rattle was a big factor in getting this superb concert-hall built. So the current cycle there, now halfway through, is like a civic statue to the Master: a tribute both ways, honour to the giver and the receiver.

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I had the misfortune to "click on" to this review whilst looking for tickets to Mahler's 7th at Birmingham. I have already filed Stephen Walsh's review in the "ho hum dept.". Why? Well... As usual the author of this review has specified Mahler's supposed personality traits; placed the symphony in a historical context, (centenary year, tradition started by Hayden Mozart); is disappointed because the Rondo and Adagio movements frustrated his, presumably conventional, level of expectation. He complains of a feelling of "excess". I would guess Mr Walsh experienced the opposite of excess, as his critical strategy seems more about constraint and limitation in interpretation of Mahler's music. "Pereant die Programme!" Mahler once proclaimed. The music is an event, an emergency (of forms), and exceeds expectations and conventions. LET THE MUSIC DO THE TALKING. What is worse, this article deploys the use of metaphysical imagery: a combination of dissimilar images conveying a disturbing effect of incongruity. "The CBSO followed their conductor like dressage horses faced with a cross-country course". This is indeed a strange figure of speech. It is redolent of Bismarck's, (a keen cavalry man), so-called compliment: "A German stallion and a Jewish mare". It would have made just as much sense for Stephen Walsh to compare the relationship between conductor and orchestra as "two flamingos in a fruit flight". It would certainly convey the sense of exoticness and play I found in the perfomance.

I'm not sure about the image of a dressage horse tackling a cross-country course, I would have thought that was a crash landing in the making.

O.K. my first response was catty. When evaluating a piece of music there must be aesthetic criteria in place; a yardstick to judge it by, which Stephen Walsh practices effectively in his article. I just felt it had too much of a political stance to it by focussing unsubtly on "Mahler's" character; and the allusion that the composer belongs, to a now defunct, Romantic tradition. Indeed, doesn't Stephen Walsh in this article hint that Mahler's symphony belongs to a different "movement" altogether, when he claims the Rondo and Adagio were too fast, and too long, respectively? Does this make the 9th more or less than a symphony because of it?

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