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Mahler Symphony No.8, Forest Philharmonic Orchestra, Choruses & Soloists, David Temple, Royal Festival Hall, 18th January, 2003 (AR)


David Temple conductor
Naomi Harvey soprano
Lynda Russell soprano
Eileen Hulse soprano
Julia Batchelor mezzo-soprano
Kathryn Turpin mezzo-soprano
Jeffrey Lloyd Roberts tenor
Ashley Holland baritone
Graeme Danby bass-baritone

Crouch End Festival Chorus
Hertfordshire Chorus
Finchley Children's Music Group
Forest Philharmonic Orchestra

Gustav Mahler’s 8th Symphony is a colossal undertaking for any of  the world’s leading conductors, soloists, choruses and orchestras: for so-called amateur performers the stakes are higher, the challenge more demanding.

Conductor David Temple is no stranger to choral music: in 1972 he joined the London Philharmonic Choir as a tenor under the Chorus Master John Alldis (and sung under maestros such as Boult, Stokowski and Giulini) and in 1984 he began his work with the Crouch End Festival Chorus. Temple’s experience in this field gave great weight and authority to this performance of Mahler’s demanding score and it was the collective efforts of the three choruses rather than the orchestra that gave his performance such power and drive.

The Forest Philharmonic Orchestra, founded in 1964, and one the country’s leading community orchestras, is a performance and training orchestra and each section has a professional leader whose role includes rehearsal and technical advice for the section. Members are drawn from diverse backgrounds, which include music students, teachers, freelancers and amateurs. Under the baton of conductor Frank Shipway, the orchestra developed a formidable reputation based on its five concerts a year at the Assembly Hall in Walthamstow and an annual concert at the Royal Festival Hall

Temple conducted a straightforward, classical performance of this quasi-romantic work and in stark contrast to today’s media manipulated actor-conductors, Temple did something rather extraordinary and somewhat old fashioned: he eschewed histrionics in favour of a very clear and measured beat devoid of mannerisms and affectations.  The first movement was launched with great panache, with the conductor in total control of his vast forces. This movement can sometimes sound brash and anarchic but under Temple’s baton it sounded perfectly unified and flowed organically.  The closing of the first movement ended with an incisive bite: even the most professional performers are known to smudge this climax with a reverberating echo.  The sheer impact of this tightly controlled climax followed by a sudden silence drew spontaneous applause from the audience.

The second movement was conducted and played with a deliberately lower level of intensity; more reserved and detached as if we were entering a different symphonic world.  Deryck Cooke described this world as a ‘forest’, summarising Goethe’s description of the scene: ‘Mountain gorges, with forest, rocks and wilderness; anchorites are disturbed in various places between the ravines’.  The well-executed pizzicato notes on the basses, further emphasised by stark sounding flute and clarinet, brilliantly conjured up this eerie landscape.  Here conductor and orchestra created a sense of desolation making the sounds fragmented and distant. Unfortunately there was some flat woodwind intonation, lacking that pointed and poignant ‘Mahler’ sound‚ we hear from orchestras who have long traditions in playing this composer, notably the Concertgebouw Orchestra. However, the Finchley Children’s Music Group were totally in tune with Mahler’s sound world, giving this movement a sense of joy, wonder, innocence and mystery.

In the closing passages the brass  - located in the audience boxes  - gave the ending great lift and weight, engulfing the audience in a blaze of majestic sound.  A notable feature of this concert was the uniformly high standard of the soloists who complemented each other beautifully: it is rare indeed to have a team of soloists who are all in such superb form.  Whilst it is an invidious task to single out a performer from this excellent group, for me Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts’ movingly rendered Blicket auf zum Retterblick, (Doctor Marianus’s praise of the Eternal Feminine) was the high point of the evening.

David Temple brought great vitality and urgency to his reading and has proved himself to be an instinctive and insightful Mahlerian.  This performance was an outstanding achievement for all concerned.

Alex Russell


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