I’ve never seen a Prom queue like the one drawn by Gustavo Dudamel’s return: snaking away out of sight through the streets, waiting with infinite patience to worship at the shrine. Youthful dynamism, the triumph over social adversity, the Third World trumping the old world: the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela and their charismatic leader incarnate the headiest of dreams, and when they came on stage they were hailed like champions. And, as usual with this inspirational job-creation scheme, there were an awful lot of them, including three long rows of wind-players and fourteen double-bas
Lured on by its message of hope, Dudamel and his musicians had been stalking Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’ symphony for years: only now did they feel technically ready for it. And as the strings launched into the massed bow-strokes of the funeral march which opens this epic musical journey, the air was filled with a rending urgency. Dudamel’s baton infused every bar of the gigantic first movement with visceral excitement – there was none of that sense of bombast which can weigh it down – but Mahler’s demand for ‘absolute seriousness and solemnity of expression’ was honoured to the full. There some rough edges to the brass, but the movement’s contours were expertly sculpted.
As were the contours of the next two movements, though we segued straight into the second rather than observing the five-minute silence which Mahler had hopefully prescribed. The decorous country-dance and the sweetly-flowing intermezzo which follows it were to be heard as flashbacks to happy times in the dead hero’s life, and Dudamel vividly evoked the change of focus, getting the staccato strings to speak softly with one voice in the former, and finding a springy momentum in the latter. If he failed to suggest Mahler’s trademark distance with the horn-calls, he did create that surrounding silence which indicates true authority on the podium. The Scherzo became a crazy phantasmagoria.
Mezzo Anna Larsson’s intonation of the mystical poem in the fourth movement was so gloriously focused that it made an island of stillness, before soprano Miah Persson, the National Youth Choir of Great Britain, and the organ at full blast, took us finally aloft. Whether you regard the end of this work as an overwhelming masterstroke, or as a self-indulgent piece of pseudo-philosophy, Dudamel’s way with it was electrifying. The Bolivars’ fifteen-minute ovation (a record?) was richly deserved.