Hallé/Elder - review

Bridgewater Hall, Manchester

Last season, the Hallé participated in a cycle of Mahler symphonies; here, it presented a selection of early drafts. Totenfeier (Funeral Rite) is, a couple of revisions aside, the first movement of the Second Symphony in all but name. Mahler gave it the bleak title having hit a creative block, and began to despair that any further movements would follow.

Performances of the stand-alone piece are rare, and though it's thrilling to hear the familiar, dark themes begin to stir, it's also a little baffling when they stop. Heard in isolation, the piece brings grief without resolution: if the Resurrection Symphony presents a full-scale state funeral, Totenfeier is the equivalent of a quick cremation.

The anthology of German folk poetry Des Knaben Wunderhorn was a fount of inspiration throughout Mahler's career; with fragments of the themes and songs he composed from it filtering through his output like spring water. Angelika Kirchschlager brought luxuriant tone and a radiant personality to a selection of Wunderhorn songs. The highlight was a breathy, half-whispered Urlicht (another theme later redeveloped in the Second Symphony) and a richly comic Lob des hohen Verstandes (Praise of Lofty Intellect), a Mahlerian jibe at music critics.

The reception of Prokofiev's Fifth symphony in 1944 was enhanced, even overshadowed, by the canons sounding to mark the Red Army's triumphant entry into Nazi Germany. Mark Elder delivered the symphony's tub-thumping triumphalism, but also conducted the jolly to-and-fro of the second movement without using his arms, simply swinging his head from side to side as if engrossed in a fascinating tennis match.

Contributor

Alfred Hickling

The GuardianTramp

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