Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder, BBC NOW, St David’s Hall

January 20, 2019 by

The new year sees exciting cultural delights in the Welsh capital. BBC NOW, in their first concert at St David’s Hall gave a mesmeric performance of Beethoven and Mahler.

No overture for this concert, but straight into Beethoven’s 4th Piano Concerto. Steven Hough has graced our stage several times in the past and it’s usually an event in and of itself. Here he proves his mastery over the keyboard with a strident musicality, subtle beyond measure in the tender moments and outbursts of fury in the virtuosic phases. Some of the more telling parts are the impassioned, yet restrained moments for piano and the orchestra’s excitability, juxtaposing the tone that you can hardly keep up with. With no encore from this master, but since we drank in the full concerto, we were left satisfied.

A second half devoted entirely to Mahler is always welcome. Within his Rückert-Lieder lies songs of immense subtlety, though brimming with an unquestionable transcendency. Whilst the poet Friedrich Rückert might not be regarded as an amazing German poet, Mahler breathes new life into the conventional verse. Mezzo Catriona Morison was the most recent winner of BBC Cardiff Singer of the World and here we see why.

The sublime evocation of these songs made for the highlight of the entire concert. The last song Ich bin Der Welt abhanden gekommen (I am lost to the world) became an almost unbearable rendition, fraught with dense and bleak words, fused with agonised harmonies and a serene execution from all the players. Morison is proving her talents with work like this and we are seeing the formation of a wonderful career blossoming before us.

The end of the concert joined hands with the end of Mahler’s life: his 10th Symphony. This unfinished work, remains only an Adagio. This is slow and bleak, as you would expect. Somehow it does not grab me like earlier symphonic offerings. There is the shock and delight of the dramatically austere chords heard towards the end, a marker for the future of experimental music to follow. A rare outing for violas opens the work, one of many defiant acts the great Austrian composer would hold. One prefers the sparkling, transformative notes that wrap up his Song of the Earth, another of his final pieces.

BBC NOW present Viva España featuring music by Ravel, Debussy and de Falla at St David’s Hall, 7th February 2019 and Brangwyn Hall, 8th February 2019.

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