Precision playing from the BBC Philharmonic under Gianandrea Noseda. My feeling is that this orchestra is producing exceptional performances just now, maybe it’s the conductors, maybe it’s the new premises at the side of a disused canal at Salford Quay, Manchester. Tonight’s Mahler was cinematic in its brilliance of colours and clarity of story-telling.
Oliver Knussen’s Symphony No. 2 features settings of excerpts from twentieth century poems by Georg Trakl and Sylvia Plath. Its musical language is familiar enough - though orchestral techniques such as slapping the strings are not classical. The word phrases selected are nocturnal and mysterious but this performance shone with brilliance and paradoxically left me happy and smiling despite the theme.
The opener, Mozart’s familiar overture to Don Giovanni, was a welcome reminder of how a fine orchestra sounds: clarity, precision and a lightness of touch which belies hard work and musical virtuosity.
I bought the programme on this occasion but it was a disappointment. Both the Mahler and the Knussen are unfamiliar to me but the programme notes added a small amount of context but little understanding.
Closing my eyes and just listening to the Mahler Symphony No. 7 was much more useful. Gianandrea Noseda coaxed a clear and subtle performance of Mahler’s explorations in the first movement, light-footed rhythms for the two Nachtmusiks, although he would have made a noisy neighbour if he had played all this stuff at night! And the Allegro ordinario last movement was as triumphant as any Mahler Rondo-Finale.
Symphonies number seven are odd works, having just heard Beethoven’s Seventh last week, there’s an emotional parallel. Also Sibelius's a fortnight ago, from the BBC Philhamonic; I'm thinking also of Schubert's "Great" C major symphony. By the time a composer has reached a Seventh, he has developed some very specific language. Tonight’s performance of the Mahler made the composer’s intentions cinematically clear with the various orchestral solos almost uniformly excellent.
One for the archive, despite the thin turnout in the arena; it was interesting to meet two cellists off-duty from last night’s Aldeburgh World Orchestra, also promenading in the arena.
Mozart: Don Giovanni – Overture
Oliver Knussen: Symphony No. 2
Mahler: Symphony No. 7
Gillian Keith, soprano
Gianandrea Noseda, conductor