sat 19/10/2019

BBC Proms: Mahler 9, Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra, Norrington | reviews, news & interviews

BBC Proms: Mahler 9, Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra, Norrington

BBC Proms: Mahler 9, Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra, Norrington

Mahler but not as you've ever heard him before

Sir Roger Norrington injected urgency and colour into Mahler's Ninth

Well, that's a first. With the final upbeat of the rustic second movement, Sir Roger Norrington Bugs Bunnied the audience. He turned to us with cheek in his eyes, a "That's-all-folks!" smile plastered on his face, brandishing his baton for a carrot, as if he and the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra had (yet again) just outwitted Elmer Fudd. The thought that Norrington's Mahler Nine would make me laugh had crossed my mind before the concert. But I had no idea that I'd be chuckling in a good way.

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For what it's worth, I still think the opening of the finale in Norrington's recording is one of the biggest travesties in recorded history (I've saved it as a horror in the cabinet of curiosities, and once again closed my mind to any further listening along these lines). And it's all based on a fallacy: listen to the first Bruno Walter recording he cites (from the late 1920s, off the top of my head), and there's quite a bit of vibrato there. ANY encore, even if it's that wonderful Elgar Elegy, is just wrong after THAT finale. There must have been something wrong.

It was a very good concert. Not great, but still very much worth attending. I found primarily though that the problem with the performance lay not in the controversial tutti senza vibrato ideal that Norrington uses, but the manic speeds at which he took the last movement, and parts of the first and second. The third movement was one of the most exhilarating things I've ever seen an orchestra play; being an orchestral musician myself, I was utterly speechless. The first didn't rush too much, and rightly so; I feel as though the core of the symphony lies in that movement, rather than the Adagio. The second, normally my favourite (love the waltz whole-tone sections!), struck me as incredibly rushed and rather dull. The idea of that movement is to contrast greatly the varying tempos as to get an idea of the sheer ferocity of the waltz, and the drunk, lumbering nature of the Landler(s). The fourth...I've heard it done better. Slower is definitely better for that movement (it's in the tempo description at the start!). I saw a performance in Feb by Andris Nelssons and the CBSO - the Adagio was monumentually brilliant in that performance, as Andris took his time, but not too liberally. Just enough to let it sink in (that was his idea throughout the symphony - if that's one fault of Sir Roger, it's that his approach lacks subtlety). Anyway. An enjoyable Prom, despite the various issues it -may- have. I'm looking forward to re-experiencing it when watching the recorded version on the BBC.

And a viewing of Elgar conducting the LSO in 1930 sees W H Reed's left hand ensuring plenty of vibrato and the ears confirm how much better the sound than what Norrington inflicted on the Albert Hall this week.

I have travelled from Hong Kong in my pursuance of Mahler. I found something else; burlesque, not in the mahlerian or generally artistic sense of the word: just vulgar (and this irrespectivelly of Norrington's persistent historical ignorance on the vibrato issue. Many, including, very humbly, myself, have had transformations in their lives with the 9th. Norrinton's performance is destructive, makes life and death ugly things. I rushed back to the hotel, and in the few hours before taking my plane back, logged on to Medici.tv for Bernard's 9th of a couple of months ago with the CB, and reconciled with life.

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