Symphony of a Thousand

Mahler's 8th Symphony requires such massive forces that it's attracted the nickname 'The Symphony of a Thousand': As a result it's very rarely played, so I was very pleased to have the chance to hear it live at the Royal Albert Hall yesterday evening. I would guess that there weren't actually a thousand performers, but very likely over 800: a huge orchestra, two extra brass sections in the gallery, organ, two large choirs (scored separately), a children's choir, and eight soloists. (In the photo there are as many adult choir members out of shot as there are in it).

The Royal Albert Hall is the ideal venue for it: most studio recordings sound constricted because even the largest studios are too small. Here the sound could breathe, and though inevitably the acoustic tends to smear detail the climaxes sounded magnificent.

It's an extremely difficult work to conduct: just keeping everyone together requires considerable skill (in the famous 1959 Horenstein performance at the same venue the work very nearly comes apart at the seams at one point and is ragged at several others, though it's an exciting performance). Yesterday the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra was conducted by Daniele Gatti in a closely controlled and involving performance: despite very occasional slight roughnesses (and one of the soprano soloists losing a top note late on) - inevitable in a live performance - hearing the work live (a shattering sound no hi-fi could match) and performed so well was a major musical experience.

Click here for a large version of the picture

Download a Google Earth placemark for the Royal Albert Hall

Posted: Sat - September 16, 2006 at 09:11 AM by Roger Wilmut          



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Published On: Mar 11, 2016 05:00 PM