tue 21/05/2019

Prom 69: Chailly/Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra | reviews, news & interviews

Prom 69: Chailly/Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra

Prom 69: Chailly/Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra

Prom enters the witching hour

It was a hallucination, I know, yet it wasn't unconvincing. The lurching, Alpha-maleish pose on the podium, the muscular pawing, the slight animal crouch, all lent weight to the idea that I had harboured for most of last night's performance of Mahler's Tenth Symphony that conductor Riccardo Chailly was in fact a bear. It was one of those nights. Chailly and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra were creating a new reality from Mahler’s Tenth, a nightmarish one that was bedevilling my senses. So, for the duration of the performance, my world was decidedly wonky.

The enormous Bergian outbursts in the first movement seemed to pitch the hall into a sickly light, and at the back of a box I thought I caught a glimpse of a hanging man. The fourth movement, meanwhile, was played out against a captivating little journey, the giant steps of a tiny child creeping down the stalls staircase like Nosferatu. This performance was creating a dark magic in the Royal Albert Hall.

Chailly was conjuring up colours of such pungency I could almost smell them: tart brass cacophonies, fetid emissions from the strings and baked offerings from the woodwind. Not all of this vibrancy was Chailly's, or even Mahler's, work, of course. Composers, Derycke Cook, Colin and David Matthews, and conductor Berthold Goldschmidt, have all had a hand in the orchestration down the years. But the genius of the realization is that none of it sounds like it couldn't have been composed by Mahler at some stage, in some state of mind. Particularly not in Chailly’s paws.

Chailly's musical course, determined by an amazingly natural ability to control and balance sound, never seemed anything but completely right. He seemed not to hesitate or moderate his directions to the orchestra once. The symbiosis was total, appearing, somehow, both spontaneous and intricately pre-planned. As a result the musical structures, so vast and, at times, so impossible, proceeded as clearly and convincingly as could be.

Ask me, however, which section or soloist excelled, and I’d be hard pressed to give you an answer. I quite nearly forgot that there was an orchestra there in front of Chailly at all, so convincing was he as the puppet master. That’s not to say that the Leipzig Gewandhaus didn’t play out of their skins, it’s just that, for all intents and purposes, Chailly appeared to me to be making those sounds himself, his digits seeming to lever the release and capture of each sound with a smack or a jab.

The sorcerer had an apprentice, too, a young Israeli-Palestinian pianist by the name of Saleem Abboud Ashkar, whose pearly rendition of Mendelssohn’s First Piano Concerto in the first half charmed the audience - and me - silly. The relationship didn’t come immediately. Chailly upstaged him in the first movement with his extraordinary changes of orchestral gear and tone, so I hardly noticed Ashkar beavering away at the front. But in the Andante, a movement whose serenity seems to hail from the same place as the celebrated Andante of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 21, Ashkar’s self-effacing musicality and magician’s touch began to show, as we lost contact with the ground and began to float to some breezy idyll.

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