Music: Mahler's 8th

I caught the second performance of the London Symphony Orchestra playing Mahler's 8th as part of the City of London Festival at St Paul's Cathedral tonight. I wondered whether I would enjoy listening to it as much as performing in a choral concert. Well when it is Mahler it isn't such a problem. What is more a problem is whether in a piece like this everything is held together (apparently it wasn't last night) and if the soupy acoustic of the Cathedral makes for a rather lost cause.

It might all depend on where you sat, but sitting in the north transept there were some startling moments of clarity and subtlety amongst the great forces at play (big choirs, huge orchestra, big soloists and gigantic cathedral). But there was also a lot of soupy ones... At the end of both the first and second movements, the audience stayed transfixed on the dome... We were all watching the music bounce around and around until it went up to God.

The last time I saw Mahler's 8th I was in it as part of the chorus. The then Prime Minister of Australia bored the audience with his knowledge about the piece. The things that stick in my mind about this performance were that the choir benches collapsing (and too much noise was coming from the orchestra for anyone to notice) and the clumsy way it was staged made it a struggle to stay together. By the end of it we were all exhausted (particularly those who had to squat after their benches collapsed). Watching tonight's performance I was still exhausted, and it wasn't just due to the flashbacks. Listening to it or performing it, it is still a big piece...

All told there was only polite applause at the end... But I think we were all too exhausted by watching these large forces in an epic struggle - life versus love, Gergiev versus St Paul's... Either that or we weren't quite sure what God thought of it...

The concert is available on BBC Radio3 for the next week, and although it does miss out on capturing the music bouncing around the dome, it makes up for it with much better clarity than it sounded sitting there... Well done to the sound engineers...

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