New York Philharmonic Orchestra/ Gilbert, Barbican Hall
Writer and broadcaster Edward Seckerson is Chief Classical Music and Opera Critic for The Independent. He wrote and presented the long-running BBC Radio 3 series Stage & Screen, in which he interviewed many of the most prominent writers and stars of musical theatre. He appears regularly on BBC Radio 3 and 4. On television, he has commentated a number of times at the Cardiff Singer of the World competition. He has published books on Mahler and the conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, and has been on Gramophone Magazine's review panel for many years. Edward presented the 2007 series of the Radio 4 music quiz Counterpoint. He has interviewed everyone from Leonard Bernstein to Liza Minelli; from Paul McCartney to Pavarotti: from Julie Andrews to Jessye Norman.
Friday 17 February 2012
For the New York
Philharmonic to have embarked upon a London residency without Mahler in their
portfolio would have been unconscionable.
It was they, after all, who brought it to the wider world under their most celebrated music director Leonard Bernstein. But Alan Gilbert, the current incumbent, is no Bernstein - few are - and to have begun rather than ended this three-day residency at the Barbican with the valedictory 9th Symphony only served to drive home the point that his performance made spectators rather than participants of us all.
Gilbert led by example with his forensically objective exposition of the score. From bar one of the first movement - a dark night of the soul if ever there was one - orchestral effects were neon-lit, details like stopped horn grimaces and scarifying bass woodwind apparitions thrown into exceptionally high relief. But drawing attention to the mechanics of the writing, highlighting how, for instance, Mahler has his horns switch from open to shut, from their noblest to nastiest sound, was to view this piece purely from where it was going and not from whence it came. One should feel the legacy of the great Austro-German repertoire at all times - but Gilbert even lost sight of what those parodistic inner movements might be parodying. Where was the cheesy old Viennese charm of the lumbering second movement? Why did the demented Bachian counterpoint of the Rondo-Burleske third movement sound merely hectoring and not shocking? Mahler should never feel anonymous, and this performance did.
For all the furious emoting of each and every climax, one could still count the barlines and feel little or nothing - except admiration for the brilliance of the orchestral playing, not least the exceptional first horn. My third star is for him. But really, where a conductor like Bernstein truly inhabited this music, Gilbert seemed to come at everything from without. Rubatos felt applied not organic and emotional connections, like the poignant premonition of the finale at the heart of the third movement, were heard but not felt.
It was, in short, like hearing all the notes but not the reasons for them. It was an accomplished, if uniformly overbearing, exhibition. And Gilbert was still beating time long after the music had lost its pulse leaving this listener feeling cold and unmoved.
Watch the new House of Cards series three trailerTV
Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards
Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears
Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants
TV ReviewThe intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Home Office says Nigerian asylum-seeker can’t be a lesbian as she’s got children
- 2 What happens to your body when you give up sugar?
- 3 Japanese island overrun with cats after population explodes
- 4 Apple and Google users being spied on for a decade because of 'Freak' security flaw
- 5 Have sex with your iPad thanks to the new sex toy no-one asked for
Kurt Cobain's life and death: Montage of Heck film uses unseen footage to tell Nirvana frontman's story
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
Drugs Live: Twitter responds to Jon Snow and Jennie Bond smoking cannabis
Jimmy McGovern's new TV series 'Banished': Why Australia's past has such resonance today
The Walking Dead, Remember, review: The discovery of a new community leads Rick to a dark decision
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Durham Free School: 'Creationism taught at' free school facing closure
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
Ukraine crisis: Top Chinese diplomat backs Putin and says West should 'abandon zero-sum mentality'