Friday, 12 February 2010

The Resurrection at the Royal Festival Hall


On Thursday evening Cazz and I travelled from Milton Keynes to the Royal Festival Hall to hear a performance of Mahler Symphony No. 2, 'The Resurrection', performed by the Philharmonia. Last Saturday, drinking coffee in MK and reading the paper, I saw that it was happening, we had nothing planned so decided to go for it!

I love the music of Mahler. For me, it embraces the whole of life. It is epic and miniature, tragic and comic, grotesquely ugly and sublimely beautiful, extravagant and sparing, it is deep and kitsch, everything between, and more.

While not his largest scale work, the Second Symphony comes close. It requires a large choir, two female soloists, an enormous orchestra including two harps, two sets of timpani, four percussionists, six trumpets, seven horns, six clarinets (including Eb and bass), two off-stage bands, and last but by no means least, an organ.  It isn't cheap to put on and therefore not a frequent occurrence.

I guess even an ordinary performance is pretty dramatic, and at an hour and a quarter it's not short.  The fifth and final movement has one moment when the choir makes its sung entry, and it should be as quiet as possible. And so begins the final build up, the ultimate resurrection, which concludes with all the musical resources going for it, and leaving you at the end thoroughly exhilarated!

It was a wonderful experience, with some outstanding contributions from the principal oboist, cor anglais player, flautist and piccolo player, and the trombonist made a sweet, sweet sound. Another striking thing was the gorgeous sound that the Philharmonia violins make. We could have done without hearing the conductor singing along, not very nicely, at certain quieter moments, but hey!

As we walked back across the Waterloo Bridge, gazing over the Thames at the enchanting capital, and frozen to the bone, I reflected how I repeatedly forget what the power of a fine live performance does for me. And not just Mahler, or indeed 'classical'music. I find it hugely life-giving. And last night, with such massive themes in the music of death, darkness, light, resurrection, humanity, God, it was something that deeply touched my soul and was more than just the tingle-factor.

This year is the 150th anniversary of Mahler's birth, and next year the 100th anniversary of his death, so we should be in for something of a Mahler-fest. Let's see what the Proms has lined up.

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