Proms 56/57, Gerstein/BBCSO/Bychkov/Pires/Tonhalle/Zinman (Royal Albert Hall) (5/5, 5/5)
Tuesday 30 August 2011
Mahler toyed with naming his sixth symphony ‘Tragic’, and his widow Alma claimed he regarded the final movement, with its three notorious hammer-blows, as depicting ‘the hero, on whom fall three blows of fate, the last of which fells him like a tree’.
Mahlerites like to speculate that he was prophesying not only the personal woes about to befall him – the discovery of his heart condition, the death of his daughter, and Alma’s adultery – but also the Holocaust; his fascination with Nietzsche’s ideas is adduced as evidence that his ‘tragic’ was essentially philosophical.
No such extra-musical crutches were needed to appreciate the majesty of what Semyon Bychkov and the BBC Symphony Orchestra extracted from this labyrinthine score, whose instrumentation includes a giant mallet, whip, celesta, and cowbells. In the first few bars Bychkov nailed his colours to the mast: this would be a unified conception, driven by volcanic energy and a very physical approach to sound. Mahler’s grand tour of the emotions proceeds via textural contrasts and tissues of repeated motifs: Bychkov wove these seamlessly, using woodwind and brass to chill and thrill, and the strings to bring balm. There was an unusually long silence after the pulverising final chord.
The warm-up for this had been Strauss’s ‘Burleske in D minor for piano and orchestra’, an early work heavily influenced by Chopin and Brahms but already impregnated with Strauss’s characteristic voice. Kirill Gerstein delivered the daunting piano part with silky grace.
The following night we got a very different kind of pianism, with the peerless Maria Joao Pires as soloist in Mozart’s ‘Piano Concerto No 27 in B flat major’. The Royal Albert Hall is the hardest place to in which to render the grave beauty of this late masterpiece, where even the liberation in the last movement must be measured and decorous. Pires’s every phrase had a truthful expressiveness, and David Zinman and the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich brought perfect balance to their side of the musical conversation: in the Larghetto, piano and orchestra together projected a wonderfully tender stillness.
They had preceded this work with the UK premiere of Anders Hillborg’s ‘Cold Heat’ – an exuberant but unmemorable tonal essay – but they rounded off the evening with a brilliant account of Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ symphony: this radiated white heat from start to finish.
Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigourfilm
Bannatyne leaves Dragon's DenTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Stephen Fry ‘criticises Operation Yewtree in dinner party rant’ calling for tougher laws to deter false sex abuse allegations
- 2 Belgium fan Axelle Despiegelaere lands L'Oreal campaign after World Cup viral photo
- 3 Why I'm on the brink of burning my Israeli passport
- 4 Israel-Gaza conflict: ‘Sderot cinema’ image shows Israelis with popcorn and chairs 'cheering as missiles strike Palestinian targets'
- 5 Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Sustained immigration has not harmed Britons' employment, say government advisers
War is war: Why I stand with Israel
Even when it brutalises one of its own teenage citizens, America is helpless against Israel
Socialist Worker called to apologise over ‘vile’ article saying Eton schoolboy Horatio Chapple's death is ‘reason to save the polar bears’
Emergency data law: David Cameron plots to bring back snoopers’ charter
NUT strike: David Cameron announces crackdown on strike action ahead of mass industrial action