Monday, 12 April 2010

Mahler in Manchester Mondays

Mahler, Manchester, Monday - ten weeks of Mahler from Manchester's Bridgewater Hall will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 over the next ten weeks. Various conductors traverse the whole sequence 1-10.

Last week Gianandrea Noseda conducted the First Symphony.  Noseda's been conducting the Manchester-based BBC Philharmonic for nearly 10 years now, so this was as good a performance as you'd get from a team so used to working together.  The concert was hyped by an obsequious presenter on the BBC last week, so I refused to listen until a trusted friend told me how much she'd enjoyed it. And yes, it was very good! Not one for the ages, but very well paced, lively, lucid, a sense of freedom and even smiling good humour. Even the big cataclysm came off with  a sense of irony, which is good. When you're young, you pride yourself on defeating monsters. How could you be a "Titan" unless you can prove something? So the more hyper the drama, the better, even if it's nothing like the real dramas of life to come. The point is that glorious, exhilarating finale, which Noseda and the BBC Phil  did with great panache. Indeed, one of the best Noseda performances I've heard.

Tonight, Markus Stenz conducts the Hallé in Mahler's 2nd Symphony, and next Monday, Vassily Sinaisky conducts Mahler 3 with the BBCPO. Hopefully, the BBC will use different presenters and speakers, and try not to aim the series at the lowest common denominator. Many people are completely new to Mahler, but not all. And for those new to the composer, that's all the more reason for commentary that's well informed and challenging,..

The "selling point" of this series is that each concert will be prefaced by a new commission, which is good. Marina Mahler, who does listen to a lot of new music, is quoted in the programme as saying "If you don't like new music, you don't understand Mahler". It's common sense.  All artists carry the past with them, but if they have any integrity they are original, they're saying something new.   Because there's so much money to be made from Mahler, there's pressure to repackage him as mainly "Romantic",  operatic, Wagnerian, because that sells better than new ever will. But this conveniently overlooks Mahler's interest in Schoenberg and other new music of his time. And the fact that he died aged only 50, cut off in his prime. What might he have done had he lived another 30 years?

Paired with Mahler 1 was Kurt Schwertsik's Nachtmusiken.  It's "Mahlerian" in the sense that it's a mix of different styles and images, but it's not very original. Mahler didn't do allusions  for their own sake. Allusions aren't the same as pastiche. Schwertsik's a pal of H K Gruber, but without the craziness that makes Gruber distinctive. Tonight Friedrich Cerha Like a Tragicomedy (Cerha was the man who completed Berg's Lulu). On broadcast, each concert is supplemented with live recordings of Mahler performances from all over Europe this year - not the usual standard commercial issues.

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