Mahler: Resurrection Symphony Concert Reviews
A selection of reviews from the highly successful Vivace Chorus performance of Mahler: Symphony No.2 & Bruckner: E minor Mass at Guildford Cathedral on the 11th November 2017.
Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony is one of those works which, when sung and played with passion, is a truly visceral experience. Sit near the orchestra and chorus and it’s like being being hit around the head with sound from every direction.
And that is what the Vivace Chorus performance achieved in their Guildford Cathedral performance. Exciting, edge-of-your-seat stuff. My doubts about the ability of Vivace, who were joined by Epsom Chamber Choir, to compete against the massed efforts of the orchestra in the climactic finale to this extraordinary work were – like me – blown away. By the majesty of the singing, the richness of the harmonies and true fortissimos combining to make this a memorable evening.
Jeremy Backhouse drove this performance with conducting that drew a great deal from Vivace; and also from the Brandenburg Sinfonia. The lightness of the second movement; orchestral climaxes which made me nervous about the newly re-plastered ceiling of the nave; and truly magical moments of theatre from the offstage trumpets and French horns. Wonderful!
Over the years I have listened to a number of memorable performances of Mahler’s Second Symphony (Solti, Abbado, Rattle..), but for me the Vivace concert at Guildford Cathedral topped them all. There was precise and dynamic playing by the Brandenburg Sinfonia, a beautiful 4th movement by the alto soloist, and the choral singing, from the hushed entry to the final shattering climax, was just outstanding. A huge compliment to Jeremy Backhouse for preparing the orchestra and chorus to this level and for keeping it all beautifully together on the night.
There is a moment towards the end of Mahler’s epic 2nd Symphony when the previously loose threads of musical ideas representing life, death and transfiguration are at last tied together in a huge, affirmatory resurrection hymn. It is one of the most awe-inspiring and moving musical summits in the entire symphonic repertoire and, just as the view from a mountaintop is much more meaningful if you’ve actually climbed it, so Mahler’s climactic chorus can only acquire its meaning through its hour-long symphonic build-up. It’s a journey that needs a guide, someone to steer you through the valleys and point you to the next spectacular view – and what a guide we had in conductor Jeremy Backhouse! Always sympathetic to the ebb and flow of this masterfully structured work, his combination of assured technique and sheer exuberance lifted the music off the page and into the hearts of a capacity audience in Guildford’s resplendently restored Cathedral.
It was such a privilege to hear this work here, its subject of resurrection beautifully mirroring the recent transformation of the building itself. An improved acoustic provided little in the way of distraction from the musical message apart from an occasional muddying of the texture in the faster third movement. The vastly supplemented Brandenburg Sinfonia sounded polished and energetic throughout, and Elizabeth Weisberg and Kate Symonds-Joy provided just the right balance of warmth and brilliance in their duet.
Vivace Chorus (augmented by members of Epsom Chamber Choir and Vasari Singers) were splendid – particularly impressive in the Bruckner E minor Mass, which formed the first half of the concert. Itself originally written for the opening of a cathedral, this work fitted the choir, event, and building beautifully. Jeremy Backhouse had arranged his choirs so that no two singers of the same voice were standing next to each other, and the result was a choral blend that served Bruckner’s sculpted musical architecture incredibly well.
The brave decision to put on this concert was apparently Vivace Chorus’ gift to their conductor on his 60th birthday. How lucky we all were to share in this joyous event.