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Mahler 9, Hallé, Elder, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester review - beginning a celebration | reviews, news & interviews

Mahler 9, Hallé, Elder, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester review - beginning a celebration

Mahler 9, Hallé, Elder, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester review - beginning a celebration

Conductor’s ‘slightly valedictory’ season begins with affection and passion

Radiant sound – the Hallé strings with Sir Mark ElderAlex Burns The Hallé

For someone who said when he first took the helm at the Hallé that he “didn’t do much Mahler”, Sir Mark Elder has a pretty good track record. He’s conducted all the symphonies except one over 20 or so years at the Bridgewater Hall, and two of them have been heard under his baton more than once.

Those are no. 9 (it was also recorded, in 2014) and no. 5 – and now, in his final season as music director, he’s begun with the former and will end with the latter, both recalling memorable experiences from the past for those who witnessed them.

The Ninth is, in his own words, a lovely way to celebrate what’s been done over the years in Manchester, and also “slightly valedictory” … the “slightly” being a pointer towards his view of the work, which is not so much about premonitions of death as an affirmation of life, contrasted with awareness that change must come (in Mahler’s case because he’d been told to ease off, but not that his time was up), and finally a gloriously beautiful elegiac farewell to his daughter, Maria, who had died aged six.

Sir Mark Elder conduts the Halle in Mahler 9Contrast is a key to Elder’s performances of the symphony, too (the conductor pictured right). In this one he had the extended platform for the full Hallé strings’ sound to radiate from, and the quadruple wind were centrally placed, with the horns (a key element in the sound palette) centre-stage behind them – a spatial approach to sonic balance.

The Hallé violins (the seconds placed opposite the firsts, as their role is at times to be atop the textures as much as anyone), after some tiny uncertainties played the first movement’s melodic themes with splendour (and a suitably in-period touch of extra portamento just here and there), lovely in the phrasing, and Elder laid out the near-half-hour structure with poise and clarity: the first two climaxes definitely staging posts and positive in effect (if only for a few moments). The densest pieces of writing emerged clear and beautiful, and the big changes of atmosphere had a deeply mystifying effect.

Mahler’s fondness for walking in the mountains could be almost literally heard in the rhythmic plod of his recurrent drooping theme, but energy and aspiration kept bursting through, then doom-laden brass, and finally peace and the stillness of solitude. There were notable solos from principal horn Laurence Rogers and his number two Matthew Head, as also principal oboe Stéphane Rancourt, principal flute Amy Yule, and leader Roberto Ruisi.

The inside movements of the symphony are entirely different from the slow outer ones. Elder’s gift for rhythmic life and piquancy was to the fore in the second – its mad-minuet section coming across as gentle mockery, with affection mixed in (and the sheer variety of expression from bar to bar was a delight, the interplay of the motives controlled right through to the clownish last two bars). For the Rondo-Burleske we saw a conductor gyrating almost like a dance band leader, in music that was remarkably forward-looking for its time: the movement was quite a showpiece for the orchestra, with its complications clarified and precise – before the big shift into nostalgia, itself enchanting rather than ironic. The furious final speed-up was virtuosic, both in direction and performance.

For the Adagio finale, Elder brought out the most passionate intensity yet from his strings, the keening horn solo contrasting with the desolation of the bars that followed. But in the end there was that quality of acceptance and farewell – not to life but to some of its joys – that brought its own hush and warmth. Elder said (in his pre-concert talk) that it was music of “great compassion … and great yearning for love”, and those were above all the qualities that were felt in the playing.

There was a long moment of stillness before the swelling applause began. 

For the Rondo-Burleske we saw a conductor gyrating almost like a dance band leader, in music that was remarkably forward-looking for its time

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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