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Schubert, Mahler, Berg: Matthias Goerne (baritone) London Symphony Orchestra/Michael Tilson Thomas. Barbican Centre, 9.11. 2009 (CC)

The spirit of Vienna ran through this concert, starting with Schubert’s incidental music to Rosamunde: that is, the Overture, Die Zauberharfe, and the Entr’actes to Act 3 and then Act 1. There was much joy to be gleaned from the various soloists of the LSO – perhaps particularly from Andrew Marriner’s clarinet in the Entr’acte to Act 3. Rhythms, overall, were nicely pointed and exact. Nice, too, that the darkness of the Entr’acte to Act 1was honoured (a feeling underlined by the trio of trombones that Schubert uses). The whole was a full half an hour, though, and I wonder if I was the only one itching to hear Goerne? An recurring uncharacteristic sense of strain to the upper strings exacerbated the effect.

Matthias Goerne, one of the most respected baritones currently on the circuit, did not disappoint. For him, Mahler’s particular type of angst is core repertoire, and the six songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn, that miraculous pot of folk poetry, seemed to find him absolutely on home turf. The way he delineated the various voices (Prisoner and Maiden) in “Lied des Verfolgten im Turm”, despite an inaudible beginning, was most impressive; in contrast, he floated lines in “Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen” to beautiful effect, revealing also that his superb tone extends throughout his range (something also in evidence in “Revelge”). A moment of fudged ensemble was not enough to completely unbalance “Des Antonius von Padua fischprädigt” and the heavy trudge of “Die Tambourg’sell” seemed entirely apt.

It was good to see Mahler’s “Blumine” movement – part of the original five-movement plan of the First Symphony included. A fine trumpet solo and some gemütlich woodwind contributions lifted the piece’s integrity. But the masterpiece was to come: Berg’s Three Orchestral Pieces, Op. 6. Perhaps hearing Wozzeck so recently over at the RFH made the references to the opera in Op. 6 stand out so clearly particularly in “Reigen”.

How many twentieth century pieces begin with the subterranean rumblings of this work's opening? And yet Berg’s writing exudes a freshness that makes the gestures absolutely compelling. The textures were not of Boulezian clarity, true enough, but that stemmed from Tilson Thomas’ more backward-looking view of the music. The score’s many challenges brought the very best out of the LSO though and the intensity of the last piece, with its dry hammer-thwacks and a superbly articulated climax, crowned a fine reading.

Colin Clarke


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