Hallé/ BBC Philharmonic Bridgewater Hall, Manchester
Tuesday 04 May 2010
Mahler composed his extravagantly monumental Eighth Symphony, Symphony of a Thousand, in a white heat of inspiration and it proved to be the greatest success of his career. For many it will be the highlight of Manchester's Mahler cycle, with Sir Mark Elder conducting the enormous forces of 121 instrumentalists, drawn uniquely from both the Hallé and the BBC Philharmonic, and around 300 singers (members of three Hallé choirs joined by the CBSO Chorus from Birmingham). Tickets sold out faster than those for the Hallé's gig with the rock band Elbow last summer and so great was the disappointment of those who applied too late that nearly 1500 tickets were sold for the final rehearsal. This musical collaboration, packing the Bridgewater Hall for only the third outing of the work in the city, was a Manchester event like no other, hotly anticipated, and, in the event, riveting.
The symphony is in two parts, the first based on the Pentecostal hymn "Veni, Creator Spiritus", and the second the conclusion of Goethe's Faust, Part II. The challenge Mahler set in combining Latin and German, sacred and secular and an immense volume of sound with rapt intimacy is enormous. It was met by Elder's meticulously prepared reading, the instrumentalists' detailed account and the thrillingly executed contribution from ranks of highly disciplined choristers and eight assured vocal soloists.
From the electrifying opening part, with its rich textures, to the intimate, glowing mysticism and blazing climax of the second section, Elder treated the work as the opera Mahler never wrote. Balance is everything here, and the impressive line-up of vocalists blended into the web of lush orchestral sound while conveying as much characterisation as their parts allowed.
The symphony was preceded with a new work, a dazzling improvisation on the original 9th-century chant "Veni, Creator Spiritus" by the organist of Notre Dame, Olivier Latry. Images from the text for Whit were engagingly illustrated with swirling musical sounds conjuring rushing winds, blood, fire and an eclipsing sun, topped with celestial grace, as Latry combined virtuoso playing with fantastically inventive organ colouring.
Broadcast on Radio 3 on 24 May, 7pm
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
New era of cheap oil 'will destroy green revolution'
Ukip founder Alan Sked and Nigel Farage 'begged Enoch Powell to stand as a candidate'
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant