Amid something of a Liverpudlian gale outside the Philharmonic Hall, the RLPO thundered through an utterly compelling account of Mahler 5 after Julian Bliss found plenty to say about Mozart's Clarinet Concerto.

Robert Trevino © Musacchio & Ianniello
Robert Trevino
© Musacchio & Ianniello

Mozart and Mahler seem an increasingly popular combination in concert programmes, and today's pairing of particularly well-loved works drew in a packed audience. For all their familiarity, though, there was no shortage of individuality in either the concerto or the symphony. This began with clarinettist Julian Bliss appearing on stage wielding a basset clarinet, that elongated sister of the traditional instrument which permits full realisation of the lowest corners of Mozart's score. The rich colours of the instrument's bottom register were a delight to behold. Elsewhere, lightness was the order of the day, and Trevino engineered some spellbinding moments of pianissimo at what must have been the very limit of quiet playing for both orchestra and soloist. The most memorable of these was the return of the main theme of the slow movement following Bliss' cadenza, when the strings entered with the most reverential gentleness imaginable. They played all the requisite lightness of touch in the opening movement, but elsewhere produced a relatively fulsome sound with ample vibrato despite the much reduced section of 32 players. This was a highly rewarding account of an arguably over-performed concerto.

Robert Trevino's Mahler 5 managed the admirable feat of capturing every vivid detail of the score in high-definition while also sticking to an unfailingly coherent script which seemed to place every paragraph of the huge symphony in its rightful proportions. The early signs were very favourable, with trumpeter Rhys Owens giving an immaculate account of the formidable opening solo. The section played exceptionally well throughout the symphony, as did the trombones, creating a very direct, bright sound and never shying away (especially in the bass trombone and tuba) from visceral, rasping fortissimos. The first movement unfolded with bleak crispness in the tread of the funeral march, but its darkness was quickly eclipsed by the second. Attacked without pause, Mahler's call for playing of “utmost vehemence” was honoured with great passion. A hauntingly delicate cello intervention was so painstakingly crafted as to offer little respite from the emotional torrent of the movement, which easily formed the emotional heart of the symphony. The Scherzo, by contrast, was a more bucolic affair, led along in its lilting step by some fine horn solos. There were moments of angst, and Trevino stormed through the last bars with a hearty flourish, but the dark world of the second movement remained dominant.

The Adagietto proved to be more a Molto adagio at an exceptionally slow pace, which the strings made the most of in utilising the long spaces between notes to build a richly resonant sound. As in the Mozart, the most moving moment was the scarcely audible pianissimo recapitulation. The finale then dawned as a crisp and bright morning, steadily finding itself in its long search for resolution. Woodwinds played with hearty character and timpani roared, but Trevino did an admirable job of keeping his sights firmly on the final peroration of the chorale which closes the symphony. It came with a thrilling pull-back in tempo and subsequent acceleration through the last pages.

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