Sunday, 22 August 2010


21/8/10, Royal Albert Hall

2hrs 15 mins. Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra under Yannick Nezet-Seguin. Wagner's Tannhauser overture, Mahler's Ruckert-Lieder and Beethoven's Third Symphony (the Eroica).

The Wagner stirring at the start but lacked the frisson at the end. Perhaps he took it a bit too slowly. Perhaps the brass (three trombones, three trumpets, tuba) just weren't loud enough. But wonderful stuff nonetheless. I always feel guilty liking Wagner: it's like listening to chocolate ice cream. He makes it all too easy...

The singer in the Mahler was baritone Simon Keenlyside, in white tie like the band (M Nezet-Seguin, on the other hand, was in a suit with a black T-shirt). We didn't know these songs and foolishly didn't buy a programme until the interval so we were a trifle at sea. Settings of poems by Friederich Ruckert (b 1788), whose portrait in the programme (shoulder length dark curls, open-collared white shirt, firm chin, dark eyes under darker brows) positively shrieks "Romantic poet". He also wrote the Kindertotenlieder.

Five songs, not written as a sequence and in one case not even orchestrated by Mahler himself, who left just a piano setting. In the order we heard them the first two were broadly positive: one is about the fragrance of lime, the other, "Blicke mir nick in die Lieder" or "Look not at my songs", is a coy little number about not looking over the poet's shoulder until he's finished. The best was the third, "Um mitternach", which was also the longest and for the most part scored just for the voice and the woodwind, except that at the end the brass come in (the only one of the songs in which they do), until a coda for the strings in which the whole thing fades beautifully away to a silence. Just before it did some philistine coughed loudly.

Both the Wagner and the Mahler started very quietly and Nezet-Seguin gave us plenty of time to settle. The Beethoven starts with a pair of emphatic notes from virtually the entire orchestra and they were playing the moment he was on the podium and before the applause fell away (D was leaning over to me and had just started to whisper something). Commendable urgency, but it couldn't keep me awake. It's been a very tiring couple of weeks. It's familiar stuff, very splendid, and must have been staggering when first composed, but it's 50 minutes long and I did feel, especially in the first movement, that he goes on a bit. The audience of course loved it.

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