Thursday, 11 August 2022

Study in contrasts from Mozart and Mahler climaxed superbly

THIS well-attended concert saw the RSO present us with two starkly contrasting works — the sunny concerto

THIS well-attended concert saw the RSO present us with two starkly contrasting works — the sunny concerto for two pianos by Amadeus Mozart and the bizarre first symphony of Gustav Mahler.

The double piano concerto is a relatively early work which Mozart probably wrote originally for himself and his sister Nannerl to play.

It accords equal status to the pianos and bounces the music between them in such a way as to require absolute agreement in interpretation between the soloists.

This was achieved consistently by the two pianists You-Chiung Lin and Stefan Hofkes who, as the orchestra’s musical director, also conducted the perky performance from the keyboard.

The orchestra gave sound backing to the soloists and proved their worth by playing with disciplined unanimity in the unconducted passages when their musical director was otherwise engaged.

A lighter, more Mozartian sound might have been achieved if the string section had fielded fewer players for this performance. The numbers used were the same as employed later in the more robust work that followed after the interval.

Mahler’s first symphony was the product of an increasingly tortured mind. Originally conceived as a symphonic poem, it was poorly received at its first two performances. Mahler reworked it, removed one movement completely and effectively rebranded it by abandoning most of the descriptive text he had supplied for its original realisation. In its much revised form as a symphony it has now achieved popularity.

Stefan Hofkes did a magnificent job of pulling together the disparate elements of this strange music to achieve a cohesive performance.

His tempi were well chosen and consistent. Clearly, the orchestra had been thoroughly rehearsed in the dangerous linking passages and was very responsive to his admirably clear directions.

Consequently, the dramatic entries and rock solid performances from the trombones and horns were particularly stirring and much appreciated.

The eerie beginning to this symphony presents the orchestra with significant intonation and balance challenges, such as long quiet notes played in thin harmonies and bare octaves. The orchestra responded well, the composer’s stated desire to represent the “awakening of nature” being amply rewarded — in tune.

Bizarrely the second movement, originally subtitled “Under Full Sail”, is in fact a Ländler — a spritely village dance that requires a peculiarly Viennese lilt to it to achieve the desired effect. The orchestra delivered this national quirk in style. Impressive!

The third movement is a representation of a grotesque funeral procession for a hunter whose coffin is followed by a procession of animals — his dead victims perhaps? The rear is brought up by a crude Klezmer band that, in this instance, was most sophisticated in its treatment of this folk idiom.

The last movement, originally titled “From Inferno to Paradise”, is Mahler at his most noisy. The orchestra duly obliged, having wisely reserved their strength to produce a hugely effective climax at the very end.

The happy audience departed with their ears still ringing.

Review: John Burleigh

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