Review: Mahler Series in FT

Posted on March 31, 2010

Andrew Clark of the Financial Times reviews the progress of the Mnchester Mahler cycle, and priaises the city’s orchestral cooperation.

“With a double Mahler anniversary in the offing – this year is the 150th anniversary of his birth, next year the centenary of his death – we can expect a plethora of tributes to a composer already more than amply represented in our concert halls. The challenge lies in finding an intelligent way of contextualising his oeuvre, instead of falling back on yet another cycle of the symphonies. Manchester has not only got in early, it has also devised a creative response to a composer with whom it has long associations, dating back to well before its great postwar Mahlerian, Sir John Barbirolli.

All three Manchester orchestras are involved (how is that for co-operation?), with the Hallé and BBC Philharmonic sharing the symphonies, the Manchester Camerata contributing Das Lied von der Erde and Bridgewater Hall hosting a variety of related events. The core of the cycle is the pairing of each symphony with a new work, specifically designed as a reaction to Mahler. That is a daunting prospect: why should one person’s output be defined by another’s, especially music as intimidating as Mahler’s? Finding the right match for Mahler has never been easy – though Saturday’s concert, pairing Edward Gregson’s Dream Song with the Sixth Symphony, did better than most.

Unlike other composers in the series (including such luminaries as Kurt Schwertsik and Friedrich Cerha), who have acknowledged Mahler as little more than a generalised inspiration, Gregson uses themes from the Sixth as the starting point for a 20-minute symphonic fantasy, giving orchestra and audience a piquant warm-up. With celesta and cowbells in the frame, Gregson leaves the impression of a composer who has had fun harnessing his musical processes to Mahler’s, without allowing Mahlerian angst to invade his own expressive temperament. The result is a confident potpourri of melodic and rhythmic motifs that tickles the palate while missing one essential ingredient: Mahler’s formal clarity.”

To see the whole review at FT.Com click here