sun 29/01/2023

Mahler’s Ninth Symphony, LPO, Jurowski, RFH review - a performance to make the heart beat faster | reviews, news & interviews

Mahler’s Ninth Symphony, LPO, Jurowski, RFH review - a performance to make the heart beat faster

Mahler’s Ninth Symphony, LPO, Jurowski, RFH review - a performance to make the heart beat faster

A great conductor finds a line through Mahler’s most intense glooms and optimisms

Jurowski conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra in Mahler's toughest challengeAll images LPO

This greatest of symphonies starts with what’s plausibly described as arrhythmia of the heart, so it shouldn’t have been surprising to find my own racing as Vladimir Jurowski drove a line through the peaks, troughs and convalescences of its massive first movement. There were more shocks to the system throughout, but all of them came from an interpretation so staggeringly well prepared that every texture sounded newly conceived.

More of the personal, if you don’t mind. The most extraordinary concert I’ve ever attended was Claudio Abbado’s interpretation of the Ninth with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra. It seemed wise to leave well alone, at least in terms of live performance, for some years. Ádám Fischer and the Vienna Philharmonic had to be one exception – a disappointment – and Jurowski another, guaranteed to bring new insights in returning to the London Philharmonic Orchestra, now, it seems, in very good hands under his successor as principal conductor, Edward Gardner. Woodwind and brass of the LPOOnce past the problem of the Royal Festival Hall’s dry acoustics, which hardly support the most luminous of cradlings, they came thick, as in transparent, and fast, but never too fast; the opening Andante comodo is a symphony in itself – no wonder Jurowski took a seat for a couple of minutes after it – and needs both a proper momentum as the conductor negotiates more highs and lows than in any other symphonic movement, and a free expansion for the sudden moments of greatest optimism, usually followed by a dreadful tumble into the abyss.

Jurowski's balancing-act in these dual qualities added up to the firmest of bases, and on that the London Philharmonic built both collectively, underpinned by ten double basses in a hyper-rich string department, and individually; kudos to all the woodwind, but especially to the achingly vocalised solos of Juliette Bausor, leading the four-flutes-and-piccolo team, the lurid sounds of Thomas Watmough’s E flat clarinet and Jonathan Davies drawing attention to some bassoon lines I’d never noticed before. Woodwind and brass of the LPOInner lines were always clear even in the most fraught climaxes and the almost relentless, bludgeoning counterpoint of the Rondo Burleske; the tricky tempo changes in the three contrasting moods of the Scherzo came with brilliant articulation; and the final hymn – of death or farewell, it’s so hard to say which as it churns you up – had terrifyingly consistent application of full string sound, never mawkish or lingering, with plenty of atmosphere for the haunting twilight zones in between. The ultimate cries and whispers, which always have to be remarkable, stilled even the most determined coughers in the audience.

This is a performance, like Abbado’s, which I want to hear again as soon as possible: if Jurowski no longer has the chief post to feature it again in future seasons, as he did with the Second, "Resurrection", Symphony – he is now Conductor Laureate – it looks as if we’ll have a recording on the LPO Live label, where this greatest of conductors seems to be setting down a complete Mahler cycle. May it arrive soonest.

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