Tag Archives: Gustav Mahler

Ticciati excites and Maltman moves / London Symphony Orchestra / Barbican Hall – 15 March 2012

16 Mar

Ah the LSO! It can deliver unimaginable riches on a random Thursday evening, like last night.

Under the baton of Robin Ticciati they sounded like a different orchestra, all lightness and bounce. Of course from my very cheap seats I could only see his legs moving about and I presume it was a very physical display from his upper body. Something one has to expect by a lean 29 year old. Clearly their very recent trip to China may have invigorated them for a sparkly homecoming.

The Strauss was utterly beautiful, the tempi reserved and being at the cheapest seats on front row, we got a real treat hearing at such proximity some gorgeous tremolos from the double basses. A shame really that that very proximity meant that we could also hear a mobile phone going off backstage which was very annoying! The all too important bursts of percussion were thunderous and mournful. It was gorgeous and a great opener to the evening.

Christopher Maltman’s Mahler was so beautiful and measured, as near as it gets to lack of ego on a big stage. His dry resonant baritonal voice was in full command of the requirements. His emotional investment all too clear to see and hear. Ticciati quote in the programme on Maltman ‘He brings a kind of lieder-esque quality in his emotional response to music…’ was spot on, he imbued colourful, suitably subdued singing with emotion and sensational beauty. This was a truly accomplished performance with great attention to the text but also with a good ear for the orchestra. Ticciati kept the volume of orchestra and voice at the same volume which gave the piece a more intimate feel in contrast to the two other items in the programme. Seeing Maltman walk past after the end with tears in his eyes was as moving as his singing. I will surely be looking forward to seeing him again in concert and opera.

The Brahms symphony was as playful as you would expect, and with the LSO in a sprightly mood it was toe tappingly beautiful and the conductor’s fast tempi really made it breeze by. The rustic sounding Allegretto was a particular highlight. A mix of incisive playing and the right amount of fluency and relaxation created the right atmosphere. Even a chap in the end of the second row managed to stay awake despite clearly his body was telling him otherwise ūüėČ

The band was clearly happy with the loud response from the audience and we all were extremely proud of them. Now if only the in between movements breaks we were not faced with a wall of coughing, life would be even better. The LSO showed its worth once more and I hope they will be booking Ticciati many more times in the near future, as the chemistry is clearly very potent.

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Here’s the programme from the LSO’s website (PDF)

A few Tweets from the evening

Glitz, glamour and football atmosphere / Prom 29: Sim√≥n Bol√≠var Symphony Orchestra + Gustavo Dudamel / Royal Albert Hall – 05 August 2011

6 Aug


Symphony No. 2 in C minor ‘Resurrection’
Miah Persson soprano
Anna Larsson mezzo-soprano
National Youth Choir of Great Britain
Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra
Gustavo Dudamel conductor

To see the Bolívars in action for the first time is to witness a new type of orchestra but also a different type of audience. The Royal Albert Hall was shearing with warmth from the audience and the intensity of the players. Surely miles away from the civil service ethos of the BBC Symphony Orchestra that provides the fillers between visiting orchestras to the Proms.

In many ways the theatricality (and if you ask me, Mahler’s vulgar use of percussion) was a good fit for the fire that burns in the belly of this young orchestra and its elite line up. Possibly reading elite sounds strange in the context, but the members are selected through a national ongoing national programme in Venezuela that¬†involves¬†250.000 members (FESNOJIV). Making the line up must be an¬†arduous process but one that galvanises the young performers to grow and perform their way to international stardom.

This was the one Prom that sold out in minutes as music lovers and frequent Prommers felt the need to be baptised in the holy musical water that seems to be the reputation of the¬†Bol√≠vars, indeed it seems that people queued outside for 22 hours in the hope to nab a close enough pitch to the front of the arena. As an ex employee of the RAH, two things we cannot underestimate is the love of the Prommers for music and the auditorium’s capacity to flatten it with its warehouse like resonant acoustic. Tonight the Prommers screamed out their love for the orchestra with the kind of intensity one would witness at a pop concert or a¬†football¬†match…think rapturous applause for Simon Rattle and multiply by ten.

Now how was the Mahler, you’d ask. And if you have been reading this blog or following me on Twitter you will know my feelings of cool detachment and cold sweat that normally take me over. Symphony No2 has a lot of elements that I have disliked, the overblown¬†over mannered¬†throw in the sink¬†writing¬†is really not in my taste. And it is a hard old slog to live through 90 minutes of an exaggerated,¬†intellectualised¬†suffering and redemption Mahler-style. The kind of demonstrative look at me anguish and joy that I grew up to disregard as a central European trait that I had very little time for. I am afraid I have to say once more Mahler failed to move me on the whole, despite the¬†admittedly¬†sensitive vocal writing and intricacy of the orchestration. It just feels the kind of work that is there to display to everyone what a great composer you are but doesn’t know how to be economical within its own limits.

The opening three movements were beaming with¬†glistening¬†string playing that brought out the drama and the artifice to the fore. Dudamel’s concentration and conducting from memory was¬†impressively¬†focused on communicating with the orchestra (including conducting a brass section up in the gods of the RAH’s Gallery through a video link). Unfortunately what really marred the experience was the hit and miss acoustic from H Stalls, that was at the same time reflective and very shallow, making the almost bucolic themes by¬†woodwind¬†and strings seem like happening next doors. And of course another annoyance is having the Loggia boxes behind the Stalls…which meant that a lovely lady behind me thought it was a good time to poor a large¬†glass¬†of wine during a¬†very¬†hushed passage…thank you madame, hope it was tasty!

And then the fourth movement came about and here come Miah in a charcoal embroidered net curtain and Anna in one of the curtains from the boxes. A few minutes in an Arena Prommer received a text message, which I would think will be his/her eternal damnation by the¬†closely¬†knit microcosm of the season pass holders. Dudamel’s conducting did brng out the orchestras¬†innate¬†sense of rhythm at the more dance derived parts of the score ( a touch of a tarantella here, a touch of a waltz there) but somehow did not feel the connection between the individual parts as close as it could have been. The strife for speed and musicality maybe took over the need for a unified structure. And here I will declare my love for the performance of Anna Larsson, whose O Roschen rot! was enchanting and beautifully judged. I can imagine a lot of singers would really go on overdrive trying to make themselves audible, she used her¬†sizeable instrument at a very low, barely audible level and brought us to a climax of full throated delivery over the enveloping strings. It was warm and absolutely gorgeous.

The fifth movement brought us Miah’s singing which worked beautifully with the lovely phrasing of the choir but to me it seemed unexceptional. Even though she has a beautiful voice with strident colour, this time round it just didn’t¬†transport¬†us to the afterlife. But it was funny observing a young gentleman in the front row of the choir taking the crown from Gustavo as the biggest hair on stage, with his blonde explosion of curly hair!

I feel very¬†privileged¬†to have had the chance to be there this evening, despite my general misgivings on Mahler’s emotional sincerity and his overblown aesthetic that doesn’t resonate with me. A huge thanks to Guy for allowing me to pop in¬†and¬†listen to this incredible experimental orchestra and its charismatic leader. A heady¬†experience¬†that brought together buttoned up 19th century Germany and¬†Venezuelan¬†fire in a Victorian community Hall with the acoustics of a retail shed by the M25.

Do¬†watch¬†it tonight on BBC 2 (I’ll surely be recording it while being out and about in Devon) and do listen again on iPlayer and on repeat on Radio 3, Tuesday 9th at 14.00. Let me know what you thought!

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