Expertly written, it went down well at the Royal Festival Hall. Goodness knows why it was given pole position in a heavyweight themed festival, decked out with the usual rationalisations and the title of 'Alternative Vienna'. Viennese, yes, to a smile; even the fine violin soloist, Sergej Stadler, looked as authentic as a cream cake (he actually comes from St Petersburg). There is a serious and thriving Alternative Vienna, not on show here: it was displayed last month in a festival that ranged from bhangra to the Balanescu Quartet. When the music of H K Gruber, the festival's other featured composer, started to turn up in Britain around 1980, it added a welcome freshness to a stifling new-music scene. But if this, now, is alternative, so is Eric Coates.
Franz Welser-Most, conducting the Symphony No 9 by Mahler, followed some dauntingly distinguished London Philharmonic Mahlerians - Haitink, Tennstedt - but gave the music his own stamp. It was not a pretty sound. After three movements, the effect was like taking off a Walkman that has been turned up too high. The end of the symphony was a lightening and a release; the quiet hesitations almost joyous, and unexpectedly convincing.
What went before had been raw, unsubtly shaped (though carefully prepared) and electrifying. The long first movement was hyped up too soon. A certain rigidity worked well in the deadpan ending of the second and the sudden transformations of the third; better than going flabby, but pretty ruthless. Conductors of this symphony need to know about life's batterings and let-downs. Welser-Most is getting there, but he has a dimension to discover.Reuse content