A trio of romantic composers? Tick. A duo of excellent soloists? Tick. Lush harmonies and a conductor who is proving himself to be quite a Mahlerian? Tick and Tick. In short all the necessary ingredients for an exhilarating Friday night concert. And so it proved itself to be with an atmospheric Lohengrin prelude setting the scene for rippling Mendelssohn and a heavenly Mahler Fourth Symphony.

Alina Pogostkina © 25stunden.com
Alina Pogostkina
© 25stunden.com
It was fitting that Mahler’s Symphony no. 4 in G major was played a week after the Third as much of the seeds of ideas in the Fourth spring from its predecessor. Originally Mahler had decided to have the final song Das himmlische Leben (The heavenly Life) as the finale to the Third but exchanged it for the angelic bell-ringing movement we heard last week. Turning once again to that fertile ground of Des Knaben Wunderhorn, the German anthology of poems and songs, Mahler created his shortest and most light-hearted symphony. Alan Buribayev captured the rustic qualities of the opening movement straightaway with the cellos launching into their heartfelt melody before passing it on to the second violins. Throughout this movement there was much of the mystery and unconscious delights of childhood both in the instrumentation and the shifting moods thereby evoked; the chime of sleigh bells, the merry peel of the glockenspiel, the playfulness of the violins, and the mellow ping of the harp.

The macabre scherzo which follows added a suitable frisson of menace to the work. Leader of the orchestra Helena Wood busily switched her violin for a second instrument that was tuned a whole tone higher in order to create this grisly miasma. Buribayev convincingly conveyed more of a childish nightmare rather than anything too grotesque with the intervening innocent trios representing the balm of a parent trying to dispel the fears of a frightened child.

There was a touching simplicity to the cellos’ melody of the third movement and there was great sensitivity to the violins’ yearning line of music. However there was something lacking from this rendition, as if the spiritual depths had not been plumbed. The unexpected E major outburst was intensely felt, but it failed to reach the sublime, Teresian ecstasy as if heaven itself had been revealed as we were being swept upwards on this mystical experience. The extraordinary harmonies at the end did shimmer wonderfully though.

The finale had already begun before I noticed soloist, soprano Ailish Tynan advance gently centre stage. Possessing a sweet, honeyed voice, she gave a polished and cheery account of The Heavenly Life. The orchestra slightly overwhelmed her projection in the faster sections and there was a knowing artfulness to her description of some of the heavenly delights. Yet with singing this attractive one could only but agree with the sentiments of the twice repeated “Kein’ Musik ist ja nicht auf Erden, Dei unsrer verglichen kann warden” (There is just no music on earth that can compare to ours).

The concert had opened with Wagner’s Prelude to Act I of Lohengrin which shimmered atmospherically with Buribayev creating long fluid lines of music. Credit goes to the brass for the fulsome, noble sound they elicited from their instruments. At times though, the feeling of being earthbound once again dominated this mystical account of the Holy Grail.

Young Russian violinist Alina Pogostkina gave a glittering account of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor. It can be hard to bring new insights to this warhorse of the violin repertoire but Pogostkina made it sound fresh and invigorating. The silvery tone she elicited from her Stradivarius gave me goosebumps in the haunting lyrical moments, while she made light work of all the technical fireworks, dispatching her octaves with laser-like accuracy and bouncing her ricochets as if child’s play. She is a thoughtful musician too who put her own stamp of originality to the music. In particular, she took the second movement Andante faster than normal. It had the effect of creating a more organic movement where the phrases flowed into one another, though at times, a slightly more relaxed approach would have permitted her to bask more in the lush harmonies. Pivoting around to the orchestra, she engaged in many wonderful moments of intimate dialogue with the woodwind. Catching the playful character of the final movement to a tee, she made the music bubble up with frothy good fun. 

****1