Mahler 5th Symphony, The Bridgewater Hall Manchester, review: 'epic'

Alisa Weilerstein
The Telegraph

The strange back and forth in Mahler’s music between yearning and sarcasm, romantic aspiration and street-band banality finds its echo in the Soviet composer. But with him everything has become bleached-out, the lines more angular, the sarcasm thinned to a hollow rattle of bones on the xylophone.

The affinities and contrasts were especially evident at this concert from the Hallé Orchestra. Shostakovich’s 2nd Cello Concerto was performed by Alisa Weilerstein, a young American cellist whose recent recording of Elgar’s concerto with Daniel Barenboim was praised to the skies. Weilerstein is truly a phenomenon. It’s rare to hear an orchestra dominated by a soloist with such apparent ease, especially in this piece which seems to take an almost sadistic pleasure in pitting the cellist against impossible odds. At one point the cellist’s interjections have to balance a series of implacable thumps on the bass drum, at another it emits a high-pitched scream, pianissimo, above the entire orchestra, before descending in vertiginous leaps.

These moments can seem febrile, but Weilerstein’s technique was so rock-solid and her tone so magisterial they sounded epic. Everything was super-charged with significance, whether it was the dry single notes that began the piece or the constant reappearance of a yearning phrase, sounding like a window onto another, better world.

Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, which followed after the interval, also has moments when oppression lifts and a glow of some distant heaven enters the music. They need to appear like a miracle amidst tumult and storm, and this performance led by Mark Elder wasn’t always strongly characterised enough for the heavenly visions to work their magic..

Read the rest of the review here