Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra Mahler 5 review


Elgar Hall, University of Birmingham *****
Starting in the days of Kenneth Page's music directorship, the Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra has long had a proud record of Mahler-playing, and under its present music director, Michael Lloyd, its standards in performing this demanding music are breathtakingly high.
Demanding not only technically, but also in terms of blend, attack, expression, dynamics, and not least, control and concentration during these score's vast spans. These enthusiastic amateurs passed every test with flying colours in Sunday afternoon's performance of the Fifth Symphony under Lloyd's committed direction.
Part of BPO's success can be attributed to Lloyd's meticulous adherence to Mahler's detailed indications in the score. Sometimes these instructions from the greatest composer/conductor in history can be stifling, but deployed with Lloyd's grip and zip they are in fact empowering, ensuring well-judged tempi (even the contentious Adagietto for harp and strings flowed at a natural pace), well-terraced degrees of volume, and a sympathetic understanding of the players' needs.
Strings are of course the bedrock of the orchestral foundations, sensitive and supple in this account (and what perfectly-placed pizzicato closures), and setting the stage for so many telling wind solos. The principal trumpet was on excellent form in the crucial, cruel exposure Mahler imposes upon the instrument (a subconscious reminder of Mahler's troubled childhood, with a barracks close by), and the horns were purely and simply burnished magnificence.
Apologies for no other well-deserved plaudits, but I had to save another plaudit for the programming. We had begun with Mahler's Ruckert-Lieder, source of some of the symphony's thematic material (not least the Adagietto), and these were delivered with warmth and understanding by mezzo Yvonne Howard.
Her diction was exemplary, her poised platform-manner brooked no distracting body-language, allowing this introspective music to speak for itself, and, supported by Lloyd's sympathetic BPO, she made these songs her own.
Christopher Morley

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