Mahler’s Sixth is a little like Marmite – some love his highly personal, gripping work while others wince and miss the magic. Fortunately with BBC NOW currently surfing through the works of the Romantic giant there is no shortage of these strong and very special flavours, unlike the nonsense Brexit-inspired threatened shortage of the brown goo.
Mahler certainly didn’t hold back in this full-bloodied work, which he himself called tragic, with its quite literal hammer blows of human anguish. Similarly, BBC NOW showed no lack of passion in delighting this Cardiff audience for this latest sojourn on BBC NOW’s Mahler journey. With Thomas Søndergård conducting this was an opulent if not almost overpowering orchestral outpouring of emotion.
This was a big orchestra showing it has utter faith and devotion to its conductor on this large undertaking, here with Mahler Symphony No 6 with its sweeping contrasts of despair and delight, mirroring the tantalising composer’s life. Some find the work a match into the void while others hold a flicker of hope it marks man’s awareness and mastery of his sentient state.
Either way, this was a performance that while demonstrating the full orchestra’s musical oomph, also proved a showcase for the individual performers, as acknowledged by Søndergård, and was appreciated by the refreshingly large St David’s Hall audience. The relationship between the baton and players was evident throughout from waves of involved flowing music to those individual moments and episodes of intensity and virtuosity. The ending might be shocking but the progression sublime.
The orchestra under its principal conductor demanded our total focus, with tremendous playing whether the agility of the strings, seemingly soothing woodwind or gutsy brass – not to mention a percussion ensemble that beat out the life of the composer.
It would be plain foolish indeed not to check out what is on offer from this orchestra across Wales.
The contrasting first half of the evening was an elegant and evocative performance from the BBC National Chorus of Wales led by Artistic Director of BBC NCW, Adrian Partington, conducting the chorus in a selection of Bruckner’s motets. Soul lifting in their beauty and exquisite in delivery, this was a gorgeous spiritual experience.