Review: Mahler in Manchester

Posted on February 3, 2010

City Life’s Robert Beale observes the Mahler frenzy in Manchester

“IT’S a long time since I have seen such a queue of people waiting hopefully for the odd returned ticket to get into a concert at the Bridgewater Hall – and that sight on Thursday (January 28) showed how Manchester’s Mahler symphony cycle idea has caught on.

It was the Hallé, conducted by Markus Stenz in the second (‘Resurrection’) symphony, attracting the crowd – and no doubt pleasing for Colin Matthews, the composer of Crossing The Alps, commissioned for the occasion and preceding Mahler.

His new piece is for eight-part chorus, a setting of Wordsworth (from The Prelude). He set the Hallé Choir a test with this, and the organ accompaniment, though described as partly optional, was needed to keep them securely on pitch. 

The piece is deeply felt and expresses its passion through long, interweaving melodic lines in contrast with more static textures – and a splendid, dissonant final chord. 

Its choice of lyric was not, in spirit, so far from Mahler’s universalism, and in the symphony Markus Stenz produced a reading of high drama, energy and contrasts. The orchestra gave everything he asked for, with elegantly articulated counterpoint and clear textures.


The second movement’s insinuating charm and the deliberately false optimism of the third were among the best things, and the calm of Urlicht, with Katerina Karnéus the soloist, was wonderfully unearthly. With Susan Gritton, the Hallé Choir and Youth Choir, the finale was the thrill we all knew it would be: Stenz, whose faster speeds were all energetic, whipping up a particularly quick march to the climax. But maybe it needs a little more gravitas than that.

Saturday’s concert by Manchester Camerata was the culmination of a Mahler day at the Bridgewater Hall, and its most fascinating experience the arrangement of Das Lied Von Der Erde for chamber ensemble by Schoenberg and Rainer Riehn. 

Douglas Boyd and his players (led by Adi Brett) made luscious timbres to surround the singing of Peter Wedd and Jane Irwin, and between them caught Mahler’s vivid sound pictures with imagination and richness. There was a dramatic quality, too – perhaps the greatest gain from this version of a piece usually heard in sumptuous full-orchestra guise.

That was not all that was special about the concert, though. With Richard Howarth leading, the Camerata played Bushra El-Turk’s world premiere, Mosaic, which had original (and rewarding) writing for the wind instruments and a haunting and atmospheric lament for its muted strings.

And Beethoven’s sixth symphony, too! Another masterly recording to come in the Camerata set, I’m sure, and full of clarity, delightful phrasing and pulsating life.”

City Life, Published February 1 2010