Leeds Town Hall, Sunday 31 October 2021:
Orchestra of Opera North
Conductor: Garry Walker
Soloists: Sophie Bevan & Claudia Huckle
The Cathedral-like ambience of Leeds Town Hall has, on numerous occasions since the 1950s, provided an unforgettable setting for Gustav Mahler’s colossal ‘Resurrection’ Symphony No 2 in C minor.
This is Mahler at his most benign – and his most terrifying. Dreamlike moments of spiritual tenderness alternate with passages of cataclysmic force. A tense opening movement contains some of Mahler’s most dramatic writing for the orchestral strings. His explosive envision of the apocalypse is arguably unmatched in the orchestral repertoire. The Austro-Bohemian composer’s vast instrumental canvas is produced by a huge string section; two harps, quadruple flutes, oboes, and bassoons. Ten each of horns and trumpets, two tam-tams, two sets of timpani, two bass drums and several snare drums. Plus three deep-untuned bells, glockenspiel, and the valedictory notes of the mighty organ prior to the Town Hall’s major refurbishment.
The Finale’s monumental setting of Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock’s Resurrection Hymn, Die Auferstehung, specifies both a soprano and mezzo-soprano soloists – on this occasion the excellent Sophie Bevan and Claudia Huckle – plus a four-part chorus. Last Sunday’s contingent stacked up behind an enlarged Orchestra of Opera North amounted to over 200 voices drawn from the Opera North Chorus, Leeds Festival Chorus and Leeds Philharmonic Chorus.
The stupendous choral finale of the eighty-minute long symphony culminates in transcendent E flat major chords for full orchestra, organ, and chiming bells. No wonder the ‘Resurrection’ Symphony has achieved an almost cult status.
Opera North music director Garry Walker at the helm of the massed forces, revealed his absolute mastery of the architecture of this great work. The tension-laden attack of cellos and double basses in the epic opening movement had me on the edge of my seat. Mahler’s vision of the apocalypse erupted with blistering force; choirs, orchestra and organ were beautifully integrated in the exultant resurrection hymn. The tender moments too left an indelible impression. None more so than mezzo soloist Claudia Huckle, at her most consoling in the fourth movement’s O Röschen rot! – O Little Red Rose – from Mahler’s Das Knaben Wunderhorn.
Thunderous applause from a near-capacity audience greeted a performance destined to linger in the memory.
Reviewed by Geoffrey Mogridge, 3 November 2021