Review: Mahler 9, NYO/Elder, Snape Proms, August 6

The National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain return to Snape Proms. Photo: Jason Alden

The National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain return to Snape Proms. Photo: Jason Alden - Credit: Archant

Mahler’s ninth symphony is one of the great symphonies – a vast musical panorama of some eighty minutes and a fearsome physical and mental challenge for any orchestra. It is often said that youth has no fear and the hundred and sixty performers that crowded the Maltings stage gave an object lesson in energy and commitment. Prior to the symphony was a world premiere of Tansy Davies’ ‘Re-greening’, an energetic and inventive work in which the players (without conductor) added the singing of two old English melodies to their instrumental duties.

The National Youth Orchestra of Great rehearsal

The National Youth Orchestra of Great rehearsal - Credit: Archant

Even before a note of the Mahler was played a question lurked in the mind – how would the Maltings accommodate the extremes of sound in the symphony? From the middle of the hall the opening bars sounded more forward and definite than in larger venues but the sense of mystery was missing. As the music unfolded there was much to admire in the confidence and skill of the individual and corporate instrumentalists as well as the authority and direction of conductor Mark Elder. However, some of the climaxes were uncomfortably loud, particularly with instruments in their higher registers.

The second movement had an authentic rustic earthiness, helped by a steady tempo and there was much character and colour from all sections of the orchestra, including a splendid viola solo. The energetic Rondo Burlesque had some nicely differentiated moods and Elder drove it to a stunning climax.

The finale, in which the strings distinguished themselves with intense and fervent playing, was particularly satisfying and one was able to revel in the rich, sonorous sounds. The final, dying bars were utterly moving, bridging the gap between life and death, saying what cannot be said.

The excellence of performers and conductor deserves full recognition but Mahler’s ninth symphony ideally requires a somewhat larger space for comfortable listening.

Gareth Jones