Stravinsky and Mahler formed a piquant duo in Derby Concert Orchestra and conductor Jonathan Trout's latest concert - Derby Cathedral, Derby, UK, 11 March 2023.
The most frequently-performed suite, of 1919, from Stravinsky's folk-tale ballet, The Firebird, occupied the first half. There was plenty of mystery in the Introduction, leading to a steady account of the Firebird's dance. The Princesses' Round Dance had, aptly, a slightly forlorn air, with some beguiling woodwind solos, the first of many throughout the evening. The Infernal Dance maybe lacked an ounce or two of savagery, but it had rhythmic energy, and the ending was imposing. There was an uneasy undercurrent to the Lullaby, which dissolved in the magical shimmering at the end, out of which the Finale emerged, building impressively to its celebratory close.
Mahler was no stranger to folk-tales, but his Fifth Symphony leaves behind, for the most part, the world of Des Knaben Wunderhorn in which his first four symphonies are steeped. After a stern opening trumpet-call, the first movement moved though implacable funeral march, powerful lament and furious outbursts. After a slightly hesitant start, the second movement quickly settled, with some good string tone, in particular. Fiery moments tended to carry more conviction than spookily playful ones, and the climactic D major cloud-break slightly pulled its punch, but the music's fragmentation at the end was nicely managed.
The big central scherzo got off to an easy-going start, pointing up a relish for both the ghoulish moments later, and the still episode in the middle, with Christine Wilde's full command of the solo horn part at the centre of it all.
Performance times for the Adagietto can vary wildly, so it was good to hear an account that was kept moving, while still finding space for the music's calm and warmth. After a suitably rustic introduction - Mahler's final glance back to one of his Wunderhorn songs - the finale didn't get the long view it really needs, with tension sometimes allowed to sag, and balance wasn't always ideal, but there were plenty of moments when rhythms had a real swing to them, and the ending was both exuberant and briskly to the point.
Copyright © 20 March 2023