Magic & theatre: Jurowski and OAE's Resurrection Symphony Royal Festival Hall accross Thames. Copyright: Morley von Sternberg.

Magic & theatre: Jurowski and OAE's Resurrection Symphony

Jenna Simeonov

Apart from the operatic stage, it’s hard to find music more theatrical than the symphonies by Mahler. For its 30th birthday season, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment presented a special performance of Mahler’s Second Symphony. Under maestro Vladimir Jurowski, the OAE filled the Royal Festival Hall with the sounds of the 19th-century instruments for which the composer wrote, an exploration in history as well as a nod to Mahler’s own mandate, “I demand that everything must be heard exactly as it sounds in my inner ear.”

With 11 double basses, 7 horns, 5 percussionists, et cetera, the look of Mahler’s 2nd is an impressive builder of anticipation, even before the first, terrifying tremolos begin. Compared to modern instruments, the difference in sound with these period instruments is subtle; perhaps there was a bit more rawness to the sound, slightly heavy on the treble, and with a faster decay. The aural goal remained the same; the scale of sound went from impossibly large (and then larger still), to so soft that we couldn’t hear sound, only a lack of silence.

Jurowski was the centre of the theatre of this piece, a physical chameleon that inspired and listened to the OAE. He took us through startling interruptions, adorable waltzes, and ugly and distorted folk sounds. The shuffling around onstage and in the audience between the first and second movements were decidedly too much, and too much for Jurowski; in a satisfying demand of the floor, he went from the second movement into the third with a forward-march kind of authority that seemed to scream, “order in the house!”

Mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly and soprano Adriana Kučerová sang the poetry of the night. They sang from the back of the hall, among the Philharmonia Chorus, creating a beautiful picture of the single voice among many. Connolly sang the stunning “Urlicht” with her rich sound, completely even from top to bottom, and enjoying the fantastic words. Kučerová sang with a lovely sound, yet she seemed less at ease.

Resurrection is a piece that at once seems to halt time, and pass by in an instant. The theatre continued with the mysterious off-stage brass and percussion, stumping audience members who searched for the source of the sound. The four-and-a-half movements preceding it are stunning on their own, yet there’s total magic in those first, hushed words uttered by the Philharmonia Chorus, led by Chorus Master Stefan Bevier. Mahler’s writing, of course, is special, and their sound was enough to push us over the emotional tipping point.

Next from the Orchestra of the Age of Englightenment is Bruckner, Brahms, and Rott, conducted by Sir Simon Rattle, a programme that travels to Paris, Brussels, London, and Basingstoke from April 20-23. For details, click here.

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