MAHLER’S FIFTH | London, Royal Festival Hall

Conducted by Edward Gardner, the mighty London Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO) gives everything and more. Gustav Mahler’s ever-popular Symphony No. 5 (1901-1902) occupies a pivotal place in the composer’s endlessly fascinating output,  his first purely instrumental symphony since Symphony No. 1.

Gardner’s interpretation of the piece takes great account of the composer’s dextrous ability with counterpoint, not to mention his ferocious temperament when it comes to communicating frustration and anger, which is so inherent in this emotional and, at times, melodramatic turn. Eventually, the climactic brass chorale of the finale comes, and the hairs on the backs of our necks stand up, just before the entire audience does.

In the first half, In spe contra spem (Hope against hope), by LPO’s composer-in-residence Brett Dean, was given its world premiere.  It is an interesting choice as a preamble to the main event, but too often chooses drama over musicality.

Led by two sopranos (Emma Bell and Elsa Dreisig), the libretto (Matthew Jocelyn) draws from original texts by Queen Elizabeth I and Mary “Queen of Scots” Stuart, who wrote about each other but never met.  Dean sets this to a thrilling, if at times meandering, score, which favours the voice of Queen Elizabeth I in its sensibilities. Introduced by the composer himself, thirty minutes is just long enough to whet the appetite for Mahler, without leaving the audience checking their watches.

A recording of the concert will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3, 16 May 2023.

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