mon 19/04/2021

BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Runnicles, Royal Albert Hall | reviews, news & interviews

BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Runnicles, Royal Albert Hall

BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Runnicles, Royal Albert Hall

Donald Runnicles - a great Mahlerian in the making?

Donald Runnicles striving to go the extra distance in Mahler's Third
Being a great Mahler conductor is all about going the extra distance: the near-inaudible pianissimo, the seismic crescendo, the rhetorical ritardando; the accelerando that borders on reckless, the tempo change that crashes the gear-shift, the general pause that becomes a gaping chasm. Mahler took all the trappings of Austro-German music to the edge and back. His most successful interpreters do likewise. So, on the evidence of this Prom performance of the pantheistic Third Symphony, is Donald Runnicles a great Mahler conductor? Maybe not quite, not yet. But getting there.

Being a great Mahler conductor is all about going the extra distance: the near-inaudible pianissimo, the seismic crescendo, the rhetorical ritardando; the accelerando that borders on reckless, the tempo change that crashes the gear-shift, the general pause that becomes a gaping chasm. Mahler took all the trappings of Austro-German music to the edge and back. His most successful interpreters do likewise. So, on the evidence of this Prom performance of the pantheistic Third Symphony, is Donald Runnicles a great Mahler conductor? Maybe not quite, not yet. But getting there.

Those mighty cinemascopic releases didn’t ever quite muster the power to overwhelm.

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So, Berthold Goldschmidt was talking out of his hat when he introduced Sir Simon Rattle to Mahler's intended meaning in the use of "hinaufziehen" and "hinunterziehen", (the latter associated with "the yawning trombone glissandi" Seckerson shoots himself in the foot by mentioning), in the score of the Third, was he? Now, Mr. Seckerson, what do you offer as your 'correct' interpretation of Mahler's "hinaufziehen" and "hinunterziehen"?

I don't see how I shoot myself in the foot by mentioning the "yawning trombone glissandi"? They are clearly marked as glissandi whereas the cor anglais and oboe slides maestro Goldschmidt introduced to Simon Rattle are not. And I wonder what explanation Goldschmidt had for the fact that this detail was not adopted by any of the great and the good of Mahler interpreters from way back when. This "preferred" word for portamento (as Goldschmidt and Rattle would have it) is in my view an expressive marking not a technical instruction. The BBCSSO conveyed precisely that feeling of drawing the sound upwards in last night's performance. A literal slide (and again I ask why Mahler who was so precise about marking slides - like oboe and flute in the Rondo-Burleske of the 9th - should not do so in this instance) is to my ears a crude and distracting effect in this context and I would like to see chapter and verse that it is what he intended.

The "chapter and verse" is there in the German "hinaufziehen" and "hinunterziehen", and according to Rattle is was precisely recollections of early performances on which Goldschmidt based his sharing of his understanding of this aspect of the notation with him: "Sidney Sutcliffe play these phrases was an unforgettable experience and, of course, as with Berth old who had heard it often played thus in his youth, it is for me a case of once heard never forgotten."

By the way, the "Beth old" is the Gramophone's , not mine. I copied and pasted the quotation from the online version of page 8 of the February 1999 edition of that one great magazine.

Oops! " ... once great magazine", of course.

The photograph now shown with this review looks to have been taken at the other BBCSSO/Runnicles concert where the cellos were on his right. He had divided violins for the Mahler, but for the Elgar, unusually for him, had the second violins next to the firsts. The Mahler 3 was a great performance. I agree very much with Ed in his review. The off-stage effects were either too loud (posthorn) or inaudible like the bells in the 5th movement.

Posthorn, flügelhorn? There seems to be some doubt about what Mahler intended and, from his other comments I would guess that Edward Seckerson knows the score far better than I and has a better take on Mahler's final thoughts. I always expect to hear a flügelhorn but almost invariably (as on this occasion) find myself listening to a trumpet, beautifully played in the BBCSSO performance (the best thing I have heard in the RAH in the current Proms season). Not a shooting in the foot offence, perhaps, but the instruments do sound different and surely it would be better to say it as it was.

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