Tuesday, August 04, 2015

MacMillan and Mahler at the Proms

MacMillan and Runnicles take a bow
To our first Prom of the season to hear the world première of Sir James MacMillan's Symphony No 4 and Mahler 5, conducted by Donald Runnicles with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.

I really wanted to like and admire the MacMillan but in the end I'm sorry to say it missed the mark at least for me. There were some impressive moments and some very interesting ideas: the most compelling for me being the echos/quotations from Robert Carver and his 10-voice Mass Dum sacrum mysterium. But I'm afraid it all felt a bit like the Scottish Establishment talking to itself - it was a wonderful birthday gift to the wonderful conductor.

After the interval we had Mahler 5. Runnicles is a wonderful Mahler conductor - I will never forget the amazing Mahler 8 which closed the Edinburgh Festival - and of course Mahler 5 is a complete masterpiece. The tempi were a bit unusual but it was beautifully thought through, a very compelling interpretation and deserved its rapturous reception. Obviously the BBC SSO is not the LSO or the Vienna/Berlin Phil, so you don't quite get the utterly world-class strings or brass. But they played their socks off under their brilliant and beloved conductor, and it was a wonderful evening.

Remarkably, Mahler 5 wasn't performed in full in the UK until 1945, 43 years after it was composed, and wasn't given at the Proms until 1968 (under Boulez).

The concert was filmed and is available on iPlayer. Do catch it if you can. Both pieces are well worth listening to!  As indeed was the previous night's Prom (which we only caught on the radio) - Verdi Requiem with Runnicles and the BBCSSO. I didn't realise that Verdi wrote it as a tribute to Manzoni, the author of The Betrothed.

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