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Simply Ravishing

Sakari Oramo and the City of Birmingham
Symphony Orchestra play Mahler,
enjoyed by MIKE WHEELER


Mahler thought that symphonies should be like the world and embrace everything. He never lived up to that ideal more comprehensively, or more spectacularly, than in his Third Symphony. The sheer size of the piece means that any performance is going to be a special occasion, and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra's account under Sakari Oramo (Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham, UK, 30 March 2007) certainly lived up to expectations.

From a bold start, Oramo and the CBSO went on to present a cohesive view of the first movement, with a strong thread of continuity running through its various changes of mood. The dark, brooding sections conveyed more than just inertia -- there was a real sense of something struggling to be born. In the energetic passages the march tunes were allowed to jostle and tumble over one another in riotous profusion. (Mahler and Ives would have understood each other instinctively, you feel. Indeed, we know that Mahler had expressed interest in conducting Ives's Third Symphony in Vienna.)

The second and third movements were full of warmth, charm and, where required, delicacy, though it was possible to feel that the off-stage post-horn solo in the third movement lacked a degree of mystery; standing the player at a greater distance would have helped.

Japanese mezzo Mihoko Fujimura (replacing an indisposed Susan Graham) gave a thoughtful account of the sombre fourth movement, with the CBSO's principal oboist slurring his two-note figures to produce a quite spooky 'sound of nature' (as Mahler calls it in the score).

The women of the City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus brought lively, eager tone to the fifth movement, and Fujimura gave her penitent's plea for mercy a real sense of urgency. The City of Birmingham Symphony Youth Chorus sang brightly but were just a touch too well-behaved, needing a little more urchin cheekiness.

The great final adagio was simply ravishing, Oramo and the orchestra pacing everything to perfection, with the swelling climaxes beautifully shaped.

I have long considered no 3 to be my favourite Mahler symphony. This performance reminded me why.

Copyright © 4 April 2007 Mike Wheeler, Derby UK




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