When I arrived at the Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday evening, I was not prepared for what was to come. The sheer contrast between each movement, the ferocity of the orchestra and the dynamism of Vasily Petrenko made for a whirlwind of a performance – dangerous, dark and occasionally tranquil. Mahler’s Symphony no. 2 “Resurrection” is a piece filled with musical variety and stark contrasts. The orchestral opening was dark in colour and realised with attack, tessellating with bright, light and then dark sections. Prominent articulation from the brass section was picked up by the full orchestra in a wild swell of sound. The forceful col legno amongst the strings built the tumultuous scene, suddenly changing mood to a comforting, romantic smorzando passage, ending with rapid descending scales in the string section.

Alice Coote © Benjamin Ealovega
Alice Coote
© Benjamin Ealovega
Entirely committed to the paradoxical work, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, under a whole-hearted physical interpretation from Petrenko, seized every opportunity to display the intricacies of the work and intentionally provide a very unsettling, yet completely fulfilling experience. The second movement was a turn in the opposite direction from the first – gallant, poised, pastoral. Petrenko’s balancing of the simultaneous melodies shared between the higher and lower strings was breathtaking; both melodies were respected individually and both were strong yet complementary to the other. Moving into a larger ensemble, the animated first violins were gently calmed by Petrenko with lovely conversations happening as the spotlight was passed between sections. Approaching the end of the movement, the cadences were sweetly articulated and well controlled.

The third movement, once again in complete contrast to the rest of the work, lent an oriental feel with fast paced swells of sounds, which became dreamy and filled with contrasts in timbre. Leader of the Orchestra, Duncan Riddell, performed the violin solos delicately, providing a vast contrast in timbre and preparing the audience for Alice Coote’s “Urlicht”. Positioned behind the second violins, Coote was still and mesmerising, her deep, dark voice resonating above the string and woodwind accompaniment.

Pizzicato strings and the flute accompaniment complemented the mezzo-soprano before the audience were rocketed back to the earlier terror through heavy brass and percussion. The Philharmonia Chorus joined the ensemble and soprano Ailish Tynan in the final movement. The choir produced a pure and wholesome sound which was warm under Tynan’s prominent vibrato which allowed her to be heard from behind the strings and over the choir. The choir were reverent, singing unaccompanied, sound building from the strong lower voices, up to the soaring sopranos. 

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