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The RPO’s Mahler Eighth wasn’t the overwhelming expertise anticipated from the forces concerned – Seen and Heard Worldwide


United Kingdom Mahler Symphony No.8, ‘Symphony of a Thousand’: Soloists, Philharmonia Refrain, Bournemouth Symphony Refrain, Metropolis of London Choir, Schola Cantorum of The Cardinal Vaughan Memorial College, Tiffin Boys’ Choir, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra / Vasily Petrenko (conductor). Royal Albert Corridor, London, 23.10.2022. (JPr)

Vasily Petrenko conducts Mahler’s Symphony No.8 (Half I) © Andy Paradise

Sarah Wegener (soprano) – Magna Peccatrix
Jacquelyn Wagner (soprano) – Una Poenitentium, Gretchen
Regula Mühlemann (soprano) – Mater Gloriosa
Jennifer Johnston (mezzo-soprano) – Mulier Samaritana
Claudia Huckle (contralto) – Maria Aegyptiaca
Vincent Wolfsteiner (tenor) – Physician Marianus
Benedict Nelson (baritone) – Pater Ecstaticus
James Platt (bass) – Pater Profundus

It’s a story price retelling how on 12 and 13 September 1910 the primary efficiency of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony within the Exhibition Corridor, Munich, was one of many earliest and most profitable of PR stunts by a live performance promoter when he gave it the title ‘Symphony of a Thousand’. There have been 171 instrumental gamers and 858 singers concerned and so it actually was true on that event. There was nothing like that quantity – refrain of 400 and orchestra of 100-plus – on the Royal Albert Corridor and nonetheless these concerned stuffed each out there house within the choir seats and on the platform.

Mahler’s Eighth stands on the pinnacle of the choral repertoire facet by facet with Beethoven’s Ninth. I’m repeating myself with the background to the work however it’s important: Mahler was nearing the top of his all-too-short life and had appeared, with this work, to have overcome the darkness of his Sixth and Seventh Symphonies but was clearly nonetheless in despair as he labored all of the summer time earlier than the Eighth’s premiere on his Tenth Symphony which might stay unfinished on his loss of life a mere eight months later.

The Eighth Symphony was composed in a short time in the summertime of 1906 when – as Mahler defined – ‘The Spiritus Creator took maintain of me and shook me and drove me on for the subsequent eight weeks till my best work was achieved.’ For Mahler this was one thing of an epiphany affording him the chance – as an artist – to grow to be enlightened via his artwork. The extra classical Half I relies round a Latin hymn (‘Veni, creator spiritus’) that entreats the creator spirit, entails a choral outburst, develops via the introduction of the soloists and youngsters’s voices, incorporates a contrapuntal double fugue march … and ends jubilantly and triumphantly (as within the clunky printed translation) with ‘Glory be to the Father, and to his Son, who rose from the lifeless and to our Advocate and Comforter with no sign of ending.’

Mahler initially envisioned a traditional four-movement symphony however in the long run merely selected one additional motion. So ‘Veni, creator spiritus’ is coupled with a looser Half II setting of the ultimate scene from Goethe’s Faust, in German, one thing extra akin to music drama and probably hinting on the opera composer Mahler by no means lived lengthy sufficient to be. After a prelude – which reminds the listener of Wagner’s Parsifal – we respect that the orchestration is barely much less dense, the soloists at the moment are ‘named’ characters, and every little thing results in a very life-affirming apotheosis when with a hushed whisper the Refrain Mysticus reveals how ‘The Everlasting Female attracts heavenward’. Mahler thought of this to occur via the ‘pressure of affection’ and the ending additionally appears to affirm that – regardless that our bodily our bodies could decay – Spirit is eternal. If ever music can affirm a ‘religion’ in a ‘increased energy’ or to ‘redeem’ a soul (most likely within the Wagnerian sense via selfless love) it’s this symphony and will need to have achieved so for Mahler presently in his life. He thought of the Eighth Symphony to be his ‘most essential work’ and ‘best achievement’ … and it was the most important success of his composing life.

That first 1910 efficiency was recorded as being 85 minutes. This one by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra beneath their music director Vasily Petrenko was barely 77 minutes together with a quick pause between the 2 elements because the soloists moved from the again to the entrance. Journeys of Discovery is the overarching theme of Petrenko’s London live shows with the RPO. His programmes embody works that confront ‘What’s it to be human?’ and ‘What’s our place on this planet?’: Mahler’s Eighth poses these and different existential questions. Sadly I discovered Petrenko’s Mahler moderately rampant, particularly in Half I, and general the symphony lacked the transcendence I hope for, and nor was it the overwhelming expertise I used to be anticipating from the forces concerned. (I do know, in fact, that many within the Royal Albert Corridor who jumped to their ft as quickly because it all ended for a standing ovation will disagree.) On the plus facet nonetheless, the RPO’s taking part in sounded splendidly exact as they joined Petrenko on the musical rollercoaster journey which lacked the emotion another conductors have delivered to it. Undeniably, there have been moments of nice refinement and delicacy similar to when Mater Gloriosa soars into view in Half II and all of the climaxes appeared completely formed.

Maybe it was my ears – or a leftover of the Royal Albert Corridor’s infamous acoustic drawback – however Half I used to be a wall of sound from the soloists and the massed choirs (Philharmonia Refrain, Bournemouth Symphony Refrain, Metropolis of London Choir and two kids’s ones). Mahler’s overlapping cries of reward to the Holy Spirit had been significantly vague on this event. I ponder if Petrenko’s tempi had been simply too rampant, though the contributions of the all the time dependable Schola Cantorum of The Cardinal Vaughan Memorial College and Tiffin Boys’ Choir had been exemplary within the circumstances. Phrases had been a problem all through and it might have helped to have a translation projected on screens across the Royal Albert Corridor. No one close to me was studying it within the programme and they might have been in a position to make extra of a real connection to what they had been listening to in the event that they knew what was truly being sung.

Vasily Petrenko conducts Mahler’s Symphony No.8 (Half II) © Andy Paradise

In Half II particularly, the feminine voices – pure-voiced sopranos Sarah Wegener and Jacquelyn Wagner, rich-sounding mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnston and contralto Claudia Huckle – proved far stronger as a quartet than the lads (or moderately quintet with the radiant Regula Mühlemann’s small contribution as Mater Gloriosa from the organ loft). Sadly, tenor Vincent Wolfsteiner’s Physician Marianus undermined their glorious work. His singing all through this Mahler Eighth was blighted by some constricted high notes and his Tannhäuser-like contribution close to the top – together with his enchantment to ‘Jungfrau, Mutter, Königin, Göttin’ (‘Virgin, Mom, Queen, Goddess’) – was not the spotlight it have to be. In any other case, baritone Benedict Nelson – a late substitute for the marketed singer – easily intoned the paean of Pater Ecstaticus to everlasting love and James Platt impressed together with his cavernous bass tones as Pater Profundus.

All of it ended nicely with an unearthly Refrain Mysticus; I want the remainder had resonated with me half as a lot.

Jim Pritchard

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