Mahler & Schubert at the National Concert Hall

Yesterday evening, after a very pleasant wine reception at the end of ITP2022, I walked to the National Concert Hall in Dublin for my second concert in two days. Before the lockdown I used to go regularly to the Friday evening performances by the National Symphony Orchestra but until last night I hadn’t attended one since February 2022. Since I was in Dublin anyway and Mahler was on the menu I couldn’t resist this one and have now at last added to my stock of souvenir programmes. Last night’s concert was actually the last of the season but hopefully I’ll be able to go more frequently from September when the next season starts.

Last night’s performance began with Mahler’s Blumine which began life as the second movement (marked Andante) of his First Symphony but which was subsequently deleted. We heard the four-movement version of the work (i.e. without this part) in the second half of the concert. Blumine is a nice enough piece, relaxed and lyrical, but it is difficult to see how it was supposed to fit in with the rest of the symphony which is now always performed without it. Still, it served as a very good warm-up for the orchestra which, under the direction of Jaime Martín, established a polished tone and warm colour for this piece and for the rest of the evening.

After Blumine a large fraction of the orchestra left the stage to leave a pared-down version for some Lieder by Franz Schubert performed by legendary Swedish mezzo soprano Anne Sofie von Otter who was resplendent for the occasion in an emerald green dress.

You wait two years to go a concert and then along come two in the space of two days! Only one of the songs, the first, Romanze from the incidental music for the play Rosamunde, was actually orchestrated by Schubert; the other were written with piano accompaniment and then orchestrated by others. I have to say I didn’t find the addition of a full orchestra added much to these songs, many of which have a rather spare piano accompaniment that works superbly well. A good example is An Sylvia which has its origins in Shakespeare’s play The Two Gentlemen of Verona. I love the sprightly version of this with piano accompaniment but the orchestrated version was much slower, as if weighed down by the arrangement. Still, these pieces were beautifully sung and that made them very enjoyable. After rapturous applause, Anne Sofie von Otter returned to give an encore of the old song The Last Rose of Summer which, as you can imagine because it is set to a traditional Irish tune, went down very well with the Irish audience.

After the interval the full orchestra returned to deliver a powerfully impressive performance of Mahler’s First Symphony. The programme notes remind us that for much of his life Gustav Mahler was celebrated as a conductor rather than a composer, and the First Symphony was not well received largely because it was deemed in some quarters at the time to have a structure that was insufficiently symphonic. There’s no reason why we should pay much attention the opinions of over a hundred years ago. The symphonic form has been pulled around in many directions since this work, not least by Mahler himself, and I think Mahler 1 is a very fine work. I always particularly enjoy the 3rd movement, with its occasionally raucous evocation of a Klezmer band.

The final movement brought the piece – and the whole concert – to a thrilling climax. Near the end, the entire brass section of the orchestra (7 horns, 5 trumpets, 4 trombones, and a tuba) stood up at which point I thought “this is going to be loud”. It was. Gloriously loud.

I’ve said before on this blog how much I enjoy watching a full orchestra in action. From my position at the right of the auditorium I had a great view of the double basses who were working very hard but clearly enjoying themselves.

Anyway, last night’s concert was broadcast live on the radio and also streamed and you don’t have to take my word for anything because you can watch the whole thing yourself here:

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