Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Thrill and thrust (Philharmonia/Hrůša)

Mahler, Symphony 3 (Philharmonia cond. Hrůša)
Programmatically, the most serious evening in the Philharmonia calendar was Mahler 3, performed last Wednesday. It is enormous. The orchestral forces alone are astonishing. The flaw was that the choirs were not nearly big enough. Yes they only perform briefly at the end (note to stage manager, why not bring the children at least on, quietly, during a pause?).
Hrůša drove things hard. The emphasis was on getting the pace and thrust, the greater meaning of things, not the fine-grain detail; all in all slightly less polished at the edges. The effect was powerful and at times very moving. A tendency towards volume gave the impression some of the brass was almost out of control. Yet this must have been a decision, given how well tempered this was for the singers. In the Midnight Song, mezzo Bernarda Fink was cool, crisp, flawless, and with a depth suiting the words perfectly. She had the power to effortless rise above the orchestra, with no strain. No economy measure here for a symphonic singer. But in the fifth movement, the choirs: 15 sopranos, 11 altos, plus 37 children were simply not enough. They could be heard, their voices were good, but they did not pack the punch needed. Compared to the awe-inspiring masses in Symphony Hall in May, this seemed tiny, empty.
Yet overall this was a very fine evening and a gripping interpretation of the score, with some real urgency about it. I can't wait to hear what Hrůša does with The Cunning Little Vixen.
So why were there any empty seats? I wonder if there is a more conservative audience anywhere. They will tolerate only Russian music. More fool them. 

Jakub Hrůša conductor
Bernarda Fink mezzo soprano
Philharmonia Voices choir
Leicester Cathedral Choristers choir
Mahler Symphony No. 3

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