The NHK Symphony Orchestra’s Highly Committed Mahler

08/03/2017

Takemitsu, Mahler: NHK Symphony Orchestra, Tokyo / Paavo Järvi. Royal Festival Hall, London, 6.3.2017 (CC)

Takemitsu Requiem for strings (1957)
Mahler – Symphony No.6 in A minor (1903-06)

Tokyo’s NHK Orchestra, formed in 1926, has worked with many of the greatest names from the West over the years, including such luminaries as Karajan, Ansermet, Keilberth and Matačić. Currently, they list the present conductor, Paavo Järvi, as Chief Conductor, with Charles Dutoit as Music Director Emeritus, Vladimir Ashkenazy as Conductor Laureate, and André Previn as Honorary Guest Conductor. There is quite a tradition at work here; interesting to note, too, that the line-up named in the programme appears to be exclusively Japanese (it was not a complete listing, as only six horns were listed while nine were on stage; only one harpist was honoured, but two were there). But visually there were no exceptions from where I was sitting to the ethnicity: the orchestra is aiming for homogeneity of approach, one would assume, and that paid off.

Järvi used antiphonal violins throughout. Double-basses extended across the back of the hall from literally behind the first violins and towards the centre of the stage; two harps sat at the rear of the second violins.

There was no interval in this concert: simply Takemitsu and Mahler. Takemitsu’s Requiem is only around ten minutes long. The composer was only 27 at the time of composition; he dedicated it to the memory of his mentor, the rather short-lived Fumio Hayasaka (1914-55). The piece requires full and unwavering concentration from the players, and the NHK strings were up to its demands. The first violins were preternaturally together in the long lines, the violas magnificently plaintive. The dynamic range was, too, exemplary, the opening almost inaudible and yet perfectly controlled. The somewhat Bergian aching gestures were lovely. Perhaps a touch more depth of string sound would have nailed the deal. Ryo Sasaki’s viola solos were the highlight; first concertmaster Fuminori Maro Shinozaki’s violin solos were almost as good, marred by just a touch of bow shake at the very end. A lovely and affecting performance overall, though, marvellously shaped by a batonless Järvi.

Preternaturally efficient stage management meant that there was little gap between the two pieces on the programme. Mahler’s Sixth Symphony is a huge challenge, one that was taken on with aplomb by the NHK orchestra. The enthusiasm was visually obvious in the way, for example, the clarinet’s interpretation of “schalltrichter auf” really meant his instrument was pointed way up in the air. None of this was just for effect, either; Järvi’s ear for detail meant that everything was beautifully balanced (save, perhaps, for the off-stage cowbells, a difficult effect to bring off convincingly: here, they felt just a bit too present). Discipline was never in question, and shrillness when appropriate was never shirked. Järvi’s middle-of-the-road tempo meant the march was pesante but not overbearing.

There is some debate as to which movement comes next. Take the Scherzo next, and it emerges as blood-brother to the first movement’s march, as indeed it did here. What really impressed was the NHK’s unrelenting way with the score, and the fact that the music was really quite wild (not, perhaps, a trait one immediately associates with Japanese orchestras). There was a real feeling of everyone giving of their best, and more. The beautifully judged close led to the third movement, here the Andante moderato. And it really was an Andante, flowing perfectly and including a gorgeous cor anglais solo: alas the cor anglais player was not listed separately. The antiphonally placed violins worked a treat in this movement; the climax almost glowed, but not quite.

And so to that huge finale. Perhaps the opening could have had more intensity (one spent the time admiring that unanimity of the first violins). Yet the triumph here was Järvi’s interpretation, perfectly judged structurally. The two hammer blows made a great impact, and the return to the movement’s opening was, as was by now to be expected, well managed, as was the stately brass polyphony towards the close. True, we are a long way from the psyche-crushing, angst-laden live 1988 Bernstein with the Vienna Philharmonic on DG (possibly the greatest performance of this piece captured on disc; and one that incidentally also puts the Scherzo second), but Järvi and his forces did a cracking job.

I saw some players shuffling music around after the end of the Mahler; surely no encore after this piece?. No, no encore, blissfully. Just Mahler resounding in one’s ears on leaving, as it should be. A most involving and enjoyable evening.

Colin Clarke

Comments

Leave a Reply

Recent Reviews

MW

Facebook-button-1

Season Previews

__________________________________
  • UPDATED! 2019-20 at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden __________________________________
  • NEW! Bregenz Festival 17 July – 18 August 2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! Sergei Polunin and Friends at London Palladium 28 May – 1 June 2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! 2019 Elgar Festival in Worcester from 30 May to 2 June __________________________________
  • NEW! Musikfest Berlin 2019 from 30 August to 19 September __________________________________
  • NEW! 2019 BBC Proms 19 July – 14 September __________________________________
  • NEW! Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Zurich Opera House in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! English National Opera in 2019-2020 __________________________________
  • NEW! Leeds Lieder Announces 2019 Art-Song Festival __________________________________
  • NEW! Adrian Partington Introduces the 2019 Three Choirs Festival in Conversation with John Quinn __________________________________
  • NEW! ENB in 2019-2020 and Updates on their New London City Island Home __________________________________
  • NEW! Classical Music and Other Events at the Southbank Centre in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Longborough Festival Opera’s 2019 Season __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Cleveland Orchestra in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Classical Music at the Barbican in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

    __________________________________
  • NEW! English National Ballet Announces Winners of Emerging Dancer 2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! CONDUCTOR THOMAS SANDERLING IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! YOUNG RUSSIAN PIANIST ALEXANDRA DOVGAN TALKS TO GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! Chelsea Opera Group Perform Anton Rubinstein’s The Demon on 30 June __________________________________
  • NEW! When Music is Indistinguishable from Drama by Jack Buckley __________________________________
  • NEW! In August Fulham Opera’s Most Ambitious Project to Date – Die Meistersinger Von Nürnberg __________________________________
  • R.I.P. IN MEMORIAM ANDRÉ PREVIN (1929-2019) __________________________________
  • NEW! CHRISTOPHE ROUSSET IN CONVERSATION WITH COLIN CLARKE __________________________________
  • CONDUCTOR ÁDÁM FISCHER IN CONVERSATION WITH MICHAEL COOKSON __________________________________
  • SOPRANO ELENA MOȘUC IN CONVERSATION WITH CASEY CREEL __________________________________
  • MAESTRO RICCARDO FRIZZA IN CONVERSATION WITH MARGARIDA MOTA-BULL __________________________________
  • A Q&A WITH GERMAN SOPRANO PETRA LANG __________________________________
  • HOW TO CONTACT SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL __________________________________
  • A Q&A WITH ITALIAN BARITONE FRANCO VASSALLO __________________________________
  • Search S&H

    Archives by Week

    Archives by Month