Thursday, October 1, 2020

Göteborgs Konserthuset, Götaplatsen 8, Gothenburg, Sweden

This might be a first: that the soprano singing in the Finale of Mahler 4 was also the conductor. Barbara Hannigan managed both without strain, if too complementary and comfortable to one another, continuing to face the orchestra while vocalising the Child’s reportage of Heaven.

Baton-less throughout the concert, she was in no rush for the first movement, which suits Mahler’s main German tempo marking, romance uppermost, time on the music’s side for point and detail, and build a structure. Yet this gently-does-it approach suppresses the nightmarish aspects that can come to the surface (as in Gatti’s RPO recording). From Hannigan, we were now in dragging territory, uproar played down. The second movement, featuring an up-tuned fiddle (the leader needing a second instrument) fared better, of shadows and sprites, with quite a lot of portamento, albeit here things also waned. The Adagio on its own terms won the day, very spacious and serene (twenty-five minutes overall), less divergent than it can (should) be – Hannigan continuing her one-tempo-fits-all policy.

Beforehand one of Haydn’s greatest Sturm und Drang Symphonies, No.44 (Trauer), for which Hannigan’s fleet tempo for the first movement whipped up an emotional storm, severity and passion in tandem, horns exposed, oboes cutting through, and with an unexpected few notes from the leader’s violin. The forlorn Minuet was ideally hesitant, the chorale-like Trio related to it, followed by an artlessly turned slow movement, quite flowing, offering solace before troubled spirits return for the Finale (its second half here repeated), a very nippy tempo set, the GSO posting its reciprocation with poise and dynamism.

Throughout this without-audience concert, the Gothenburg musicians (reduced in personnel, the Mahler founded on five basses, and he omits trombones and tuba anyway) were devoted, and sound and camera-work were of a high standard.