Classical review: SCO: Mahler 4, Glasgow

Conductor Robin Ticciati seized his opportunity and the SCO produced a sharply defined, crystal clear rendition
Conductor Robin Ticciati seized his opportunity and the SCO produced a sharply defined, crystal clear rendition
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Everything in Mahler’s Fourth Symphony leads to the enchanting final movement, a song written several years beforehand as an intended late addition to the “Das Knaben Wunderhorn” collection, depicting a child’s vision of heaven, but finding its true home here.

SCO: Mahler 4 - City Halls, Glasgow

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Simplicity, naivety and wide-eyed wonder lie at the core of “Das himmlische Leben”, qualities that inform in retrospect the entire nature and mood of Mahler’s shortest and most economically scored symphony.

With that in mind, conductor Robin Ticciati was handed his very personal solution to this work on a plate. After all, the SCO is naturally modest in size and more sharply defined in sound than your average symphony orchestra. So that was always going to shape the approach, as was the presence of top Scots mezzo soprano Karen Cargill.

That’s exactly what happened. Ticciati seized the opportunity full on. The opening movement, classically structured and scaled, was sculpted like crystal, every timbre sharpened to maximum definition, and its architecture set out in sharp profile, spotlit by a cool luminescent glow. In effect, Ticciati did in practice to Mahler what the Second Viennese School composers attempted in their hi-concentrate chamber ensemble adaptations, but without changing a note of the original.

That same crystalline exploration fired fresh-minted breath into the rest of the symphony, the devilish quirkiness of the scherzo, and the golden expressive arch of the slow movement, although in the latter, the limitations of the forces at hand – most noticeably a string section lacking the necessary fullness and expansiveness – were a palpable issue.

But all that was swept aside when Cargill entered in the finale, a truly melting moment in which the richness and warmth of her voice lifted the performance to sublime heights, and we glimpsed, arising from all that went before, the fearless childlike awe that was surely core to Mahler’s emotional, as well as symphonic, destination.

Ticciati prefaced all that with the world premiere of Japanese composer Toshio Hosokawa’s harp concerto “Aelous, Re-Turning III”, the gossamer textures, wind chime effects and ultra-quiet landscape of which played a key subliminal part in preparing our ears for the main Mahler feature. Its exotic allusions to traditional Japanese instrumental styles flowed effortlessly from soloist Naoko Yoshino’s fingers, a performance characterised in equal measure by animated charm, piquant delivery and hushed sensitivity.

Seen on 10.10.14