The Birmingham Post isn’t always able to post online everything that I’ve written for its print edition, so – after a suitable time lag (you should really go out and buy the paper!) – I’ll be posting my recent reviews here. As per the print edition, they’re all fairly concise – just 250 words. This is of a performance at Tewkesbury Abbey on 21 March 2015.
You don’t have to be very old to remember when Mahler was still considered a cult composer. Yet here was a capacity audience in rural Gloucestershire, braving the bone-numbing chill of Tewkesbury Abbey to hear a superbly-prepared performance of the Resurrection symphony by an amateur orchestra and chorus based in Malvern.
From the powerful tone of the mens’ voices to the beautifully produced programme book, everything about this performance by the Chandos Symphony Orchestra and Chorale, under their music director Michael Lloyd, spoke of confidence. The opening was electrifying, and the big climaxes – superbly paced by Lloyd – delivered the necessary roof-raising thrills. He even kept a tight grip on the offstage brass: no mean feat in the Abbey acoustic, although the low temperature may have had an unavoidable effect on their intonation.
That acoustic was both the performance’s greatest ally and its worst enemy. There was a real spaciousness to the outer movements; the pounding, dissonant climax of the first has never sounded so much like Bruckner. But (from the seats at the rear of the Abbey, anyway) the woodwinds were generally inaudible within the orchestral texture, and the chorus’s first entry – that spine-tingling “Aufersteh’n” – was, presumably of necessity, far from Mahler’s whispered pianississimo.
But at its finest – like when mezzo Wendy Dawn Thompson’s Urlicht floated out into that great resonant space, and Kelly McCusker’s solo violin twined around it, or in the soul-shaking, organ-thundering final bars – this Resurrection hit home exactly as Maher must have hoped. A noble achievement.