Michael Tilson Thomas and the London Symphony Orchestra were on phenomenal form this evening. You can’t usually write about Mahler performance without offending someone. All discussion of this composer, more than any other, inspires heated if not over-heated passion, but I cannot imagine any Mahlerians who know their Des Knaben Wunderhorn coming away from this performance dissatisfied.
Michael Tilson Thomas is my kind of Mahler conductor that is, he shapes the music with understated fervour rather than full-blown heart-on-sleeve, yet completely eschews the dreadful spareness of some interpreters. Here, he obtained from the LSO a standard of playing that was nothing short of phenomenal, and it was heartening to see that this was generously recognized both by the audience and the soloist.
Matthias Goerne has no current equals amongst Mahler singers, bringing to the music the kind of interpretative skill and intensity which characterize the very greatest performances. ‘Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen’ and ‘Urlicht’ were the highlights of the evening, the former spellbinding in the long legato lines such as ‘O Lieb’ auf grner Erden!’ and the latter peerlessly sung, its metaphysical and musical challenges surmounted with absolute grace.
The opening ‘O Röschen rot!’ was searing in its quiet fervour and the heroic nature of man’s sense of his own identity perfectly captured in ‘Ich bin von Gott und will wieder zu Gott!’ In every phrase, Tilson Thomas and the LSO echoed and supported Goerne’s vision.
Mahler’s Blumine allowed the LSO woodwind to shine, and Schubert’s incidental music to Rosamunde began the evening with appropriate Romantic style, the ‘Ländler’ like episodes in the first part finely phrased and the wonderful theme of the Act 3 ‘Entr’acte’ clearly evoking ‘Der Leidende’ in its melancholy lines. Berg’s Three Pieces for Orchestra found the LSO in superb form, especially in the final ‘Marsch’ which united the concert’s close with its Schubertian and Mahlerian roots.