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Of head and heart

DAVID THOMPSON samples three symphonies
from two international orchestras
at the BBC Proms


The Editor was not overstating the situation in extolling the riches of the annual Proms season at London's Royal Albert Hall. It says much for our good fortune that two of the world's finest orchestras, the Royal Concertgebouw and the Los Angeles Philharmonic each presented a pair of concerts in the same week. I was privileged to be present at one of each.

The Royal Concertgebouw provided the cultured voice of mainstream Europe. It has a long and distinguished tradition. In particular, it has Mahler deep in its bloodstream, from the time of the composer himself, through the likes of Mengelberg, Van Beinum and Haitink, to Riccardo Chailly in the present day. So we might have anticipated that a rare live performance of of the gigantic Third would be a highlight of the season. In the event, Chailly was indisposed, and his replacement, at short notice, was Eliahu Inbal, a distinguished Mahlerian himself as his recorded cycle amply testifies.

Mahler 3 is a difficult, if not impossible work to bring off convincingly. Not so much from a technical point of view -- indeed, the orchestra declared its credentials most convincingly, with every considerable demand easily met, every precise nuance keenly observed. There was pleasure enough to be had from this alone. But does an immaculate performance a symphony make? In a piece so extended and diverse, I'm not sure that Mahler is able to achieve the impossible, nor fair to ask it of his interpreters.

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Copyright © 6 September 2002 David Thompson, Eastwood, Essex, UK


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