Opera + Classical Music Reviews

LSO/Harding @ Barbican Hall, London

12 November 2009

Daniel Harding dispelled any notion that he is too young to be conducting Mahler with this coruscating performance of the 6th Symphony.

Indeed with the LSO on blistering form this was as shattering, insightful and incandescently played performance of this symphony as youre likely to hear.

After the waywardness of Gergiev in this repertoire, it was a relief to hear such scrupulously nuanced playing from the orchestra.

As Daniel Harding is only in his mid-thirties, there are plenty of critics and commentators at large who think he has no business conducting Mahler, as if this particular composer was the preserve of conductors who qualify for a bus pass. I have only ever witnessed him conduct Mahler once before, and that was a spell-binding performance of the 5th Symphony with these same forces ac couple of years ago, so I had high expectations of the 6th and Im happy to report that not only were those expectations met, they were more than exceeded as this was probably the most all-encompassing performance of the mighty 6th that Ive ever heard, the impact of which left me reeling long after Id left the concert hall.

From the measured, portentous opening bars it very quickly became apparent that this was going to be reading of considerable stature, and so it proved to be. Climaxes grew organically out of the orchestra, there was no sense of artifice on behalf of Harding and whilst many conductors are unable to resist the hubris of imposing their interpretation on Mahler, Harding let the music speak, allowing it to unfurl and develop at a natural pace.

Harding played the Andante moderato second (some conductors position the Scherzo here) and after the tempestuousness of the first movement, the lyrical, soaring melodies of this movement were not only deftly handled buy Harding but exquisitely played by the strings, all underpinned with some hauntingly beautiful woodwind solos.

The third movement, the Scherzo, is marked Wuchtig (Powerful) in the score and after the aural nectar of the Andante the violence of this movement took ones breath away. From the braying horns and shrieking woodwind that open the movement Harding brought out the grotesque elements in fact Ive never realised in performance before how infused this symphony is with such a dark sense of foreboding.

This sense of mortality was continued through into the last movement, Sostenuto-Allegro energico. The powerful tread of the timpanis opening motif has never sounded more threatening, and from then on all sections of the LSO played with a white-hot intensity. This really was edge of the seat stuff, and Harding shaped the half-hour span of this final movement with an unerring ear and the pacing was faultless the hammer blows of fate for once felt suitably doom-laden. At the close the elderly gentleman sitting next to me leaned across and said: I dont usually like Harding but this was superb. Indeed it was, and this shattering performance will linger long in the memory, and will surely confound those commentators who believe Harding has no business conducting Mahler, as this performance ranks with the finest Ive ever heard.

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