What would you put in a goodbye concert? The obvious Haydn, perhaps? Nelsons said the first of two goodbyes last night, with nothing smaller than Mahler 3; as a small piece by Latvian composer Eriks Ešenvalds was given its UK premiere. This first piece was a 10-minute tone poem inspired by Latvians running in to the forest to seek shelter from Soviet troops and thus saving their lives. The view of nature - of light tinged with darkness, suited well with the main subject of the evening: the gargantuan Mahler 3 too.
With Nelsons, it required all the CBSO choruses (the men's performed in the first piece only, before retiring to watch the Mahler) - in total something like 230-260 musicians I would estimate. This really was a big farewell.
Nelsons, recently recovered from an acute ear infection (having to pull out last week, took the stage, and conducted as energetically as ever -at times he seemed almost to dance. The scope of the symphony matches the musical forces needed to pull it off. It ran, by my watch, for nearly 1h40, but the pace did not seem to drag. Almost every musician had to stand out at some point. This was all very good, but I didn't feel the CBSO was on fire as it had been of late, with the sublime Parsifal and the impressive programme last week (review). Perhaps emotions were running too high; maybe rehearsals had been slightly less due to illness. Mahler's third isn't my favourite. I think the reason for this is that it is so big, it is almost musically indigestible. It might be that it gels better tonight. I fear they bit off ever so slightly more than could be chewed for this particular concert and circumstances. Or perhaps the CBSO suffers because it has been so very good (and so very busy) recently. They are a busy orchestra.
Yet the overall playing and effect of the Mahler - overwhelming by its composition but stunning by its execution here, was memorable. Mezzo-Soprano Michaela Schuster, comes having sung plenty of big Wagner parts (most recently Kundry in Karlsruhe Parsifal). She offered clarity and audibility which could be heard even even at the top. It's the Wagnerian trick of so many musicians not always making that much noise.
My abiding memory of Nelsons at CBSO will be the earth-shattering Parsifal a month to the day (review). The flower maidens fittingly came back in the second movement. There are so many other fine moments -the echoes of the Wayfarer too. All of this was so very wonderful. But at the back of my mind, I wasn't too sure that the CBSO was surpassing itself - but then that is a very high bar indeed.
Overall: very good indeed, but perhaps not quite vintage Nelsons/CBSO.
Repeated on 18th June; on BBC iplayer
Now we must ask the question: who next? Chouhan, Collon would be good bets.
CBSO Chorus, Youth Chorus, Children’s Chorus
Michaela Schuster mezzo soprano
Eriks Ešenvalds Lakes Awake at Dawn 13 (CBSO co-commission, UK premiere)
Mahler Symphony No. 3