Friday, 6 October 2017

Mahler 3, Philharmonia, Festival Hall

"It was voted the tenth-greatest symphony of all time in a survey of conductors carried out by the BBC Music Magazine." (via Wikipedia)

Well, tenth-greatest isn't where I would put it, even following a highly polished performance such as this. The Philharmonia performed Mahler's 3rd Symphony last Sunday afternoon at the Royal Festival Hall, a special event that was streamed online and also captured for some sort of VR event (part of their Virtual Orchestra series?). I guess it's the familiarity of the music, the length of the piece and the faintly daft fourth & fifth movements... but then I always have to factor in the hangover association of hearing the piece at the Barbican 20 years ago when the person next to me tried to unwrap a sweet throughout the whole of the finale.

Personal pecadillos aside it was just nice to come and hear the Philharmonia giving a concert performance of a single work, and one that is a classic example of an orchestral showpiece. I enjoyed the concert in so many ways for this alone: the ensemble, following Esa-Pekka Salonen's beat as if on the end of a cord; the brilliant woodwind throughout; the ensemble of the cellos, who I often mistook for a single instrument; ferocious but nonetheless meticulous trombones, as if a Formula 1 car had been asked to corner in the melodic minor; the ensemble (have I mentioned the ensemble yet?) of the timpani in the final throes of the work - absolutely astonishing, utterly memorable.

In addition to this were the women of Philharmonia Voices and the (off-copy) boys of Tiffin School, precise in tone, text and decorous choreography as Salonen segued the Threnody of the final movement from the close of the prior Knaben Wunderhorn setting. I had a splendid seat for such an event, halfway up the balcony where I last sat, ooh, again, 20 years ago to hear Waltraud Meier essay Wagner, a good place to take in the sweep of the substantial, impressive, if unfashionable concert hall and a piece of music that could have been designed for it. And we all listened carefully - without intrusive sweets - for the full hour and a half.