The Adagio from Mahler's 10th Symphony served as an upbeat (or should that be downbeat), a kind of Liebestod or "love-death" before the "supreme ecstasy" of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde - Act 2.
In a typically provocative piece of programming from the London Philharmonic's Vladimir Jurowski Mahler's starkest final utterance served as an indicator of the path music was to take following the harmonic indeterminacy of Wagner's so-called "Tristan chord". This was music seemingly taking its lead from the final act of Wagner's opera. Love and death inextricably entwined.
And perhaps because the musicological message was so very particular, Jurowski's Mahler took on a strangely analytical, dispassionate, tone, more fragile, more tentative, than it generally sounds, violas so pale and wan at the start, violins tensely seeking enlightenment in altissimo. It's horribly exposed music, of course, and I have to say felt so on this occasion - though the blade-like first trumpet bisecting the movement's central cris de coeur was pretty sensational, like Melot's sword making its fateful thrust into Tristan at the close of what followed.
And so Wagner's "holy twilight" descended in all its tremulous, perfumed, headiness, a far more secure sounding LPO enfolding us in the extraordinary drama. The moment, for instance, where the lovers first come together - surfing, if you like, a tide of delirium - was properly reckless in tone and tempo, Jurowski and his singers really pushing everything to convey a breathless abandon. Orchestral colours were furtive and illicit with bassoons and bass clarinet sounding almost erotic for once.
Vocally, the women had it. The wonderful Sarah Connolly seems to ripen vocally with every appearance and her anxious Brangane was ennobled by a lofty sense of resignation, her unheeded warnings from the tower sounding like siren songs from the next world. Anja Kampe's Isolde was more than ready for the "supreme ecstasy" of this night of love. Her bright resilient sound opened to it, every phrase primed and impatient with desire, her climactic melismas fantastically exciting. Robert Dean Smith's rather "proper" Tristan was, one felt, more of a Walther von Stolzing, the voice not really craggy or heroic enough, the phrasings failing to find length and amplitude. And what a shame, too, that Laszlo Polgar's King Marke was so hopelessly compromised by a chesty cold. He should be given credit for at least maintaining his dignity.
But what a piece. Even one act - and especially this act - sends you reeling 143 years after the ink dried - if indeed it ever did - on the manuscript.Reuse content