As part of this year’s classical season, the London Symphony Orchestra returns to the Colston Hall. Last year they were lead by John Adams, taking us into his explosive Dr Atomic Symphony. This time the world famous orchestra was led by its celebrated principal conductor Valery Gergiev, winner of the prestigious 2009 Royal Philharmonic Society Award for his ‘intensity and passion ... a conductor who makes things happen’ .

The night's programme started with a light-hearted selection from Bizet’s Carmen Suite, arranged by Shchedrin. Playful and at some points humorous, this was the perfect opening to the concert, which took the audience (via strings and percussion) into the Latin sounds of Spain, as interpreted by a Frenchman. The suite was deceptively long, although its ever changing character and wonderfully orchestrated variations kept the audience on their toes. Gergiev knew exactly how to handle this piece, and the playful yet engaged response from the orchestra demonstrated his renowned leadership.

Alberto Venzago
Alberto Venzago

So from the ambience of south west Europe, Gergiev took us north and beyond into the realms of German romanticism and the concepts of death and eternity. Mahler’s 5th Symphony opens with a fanfare from the trumpets and a large climax precedes the funeral march. So from just a string section to a gigantic orchestra of a whopping six horns, four trumpets and a beefy percussion section, the audience is immediately taken into a graver mindset. It is no surprise that this piece was written in the years in which Mahler was experiencing extremely ill health. After a severe haemorrhage in the summer of 1901, he had come an hours away from death.

I have always had reservations on the length of Mahler’s symphonies (the longest clocks in at a whopping 95 minutes), as I don’t believe an audience should be waiting for a piece to end. However this work seems to flow smoothly and upon performance, the listener forgets that time has passed. This of course is aided by the performers who in taking on such an epic piece sustained the highest level of energy and enthusiasm.

To finish this immense work we hear a return of the beautiful and stirring brass chorale and at the sound of the last cymbal the orchestra received a roaring applause, with Gergiev returning to the stage three times. As always, the LSO did not disappoint and as they prepare to carry out a Mahler season at the Barbican, they can be sure to offer an equal if not greater performance. The series begins on the 19th November.

If you missed this concert, then be sure to check out Mahler’s 2nd on the 4th December, where over 350 performers from Bristol University gather to perform one of the most dramatic and spectacular pieces of music ever written.

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