Review: Manchester Mahler in the Telegraph

Posted on May 10, 2010

David Fanning reviews the Hallé and BBC Phil’s Manchester Mahler contibution in the

“Mahler’s Eighth Symphony, with the combined strengths of the two orchestras whose contrasting styles and repertoires make Manchester’s musical life so rich, was always the hot ticket of the season. As anyone who knows the Bridgewater Hall stage would have realised, this did not mean a double-sized band, but merely a mingling of personnel; which is just as well, because no modern concert-hall acoustic is designed to cope with the decibel level of much more than 100 professional players. In sonic terms the result was still magnificent.

With the similarly amalgamated Hallé Choir and CBSO Chorus in full spate, and the Hallé Youth Choir and Children’s Choir bright and full in tone, the choral contributions never felt overstretched. And the fact that the orchestral sound was so cohesive and well-balanced, both internally and against the choirs and vocal soloists, was greatly to Sir Mark Elder’s credit.

True, the line-up of soloists would have benefited from some larger personalities, not least to carry us over the occasional off-colour or underpowered patch. But the bigger problem was with Elder himself. As ever, his direction was economical and energy-saving, declining to push the needle into the red except at crucial strategic points, and always considerate to his players, who responded with panache and subtlety. His avoidance of extremes certainly helped paper over the cracks in Mahler’s episodic Faust setting.

Yet sound architecture and sane musical judgment are nothing here without a strong instinct for drama. Born Mahlerians know that longing, doubt and ecstasy are of the essence. Where the music makes sudden cinematic cuts, he smooths across the joins; where the ground seems to shift under your feet, he provides reassuring bridges. Not once do you feel your breath taken away, and never is there a sense of risk or danger. In the absence of that, the ultimate impression comes dangerously close to self-satisfaction rather than revelation.

A standing ovation was the predictable outcome, and if it was to acclaim the playing, the choral singing and Mahler’s colossal conception, rather than the conducting, it was the right one.

The innovative and not ineffective prelude was an organ improvisation on the ninth-century plainchant to the Veni Creator Spiritus text, set to totally different music in part one of Mahler’s symphony. Olivier Latry gave the tune the full virtuoso French treatment, decking it out in a kaleidoscopic range of colour and atmosphere. “

Read the review at