Irish Ailish Delights in Mozart and Mahler

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Haydn, Mozart, Mahler: Ailish Tynan (soprano),  BBC National Orchestra of Wales / Jac van Steen (conductor),  Grand Theatre, Swansea, 30.5. 2014 (NR)

Haydn, Symphony no. 87 in A major, Hoboken 1:87
Mozart, ‘Ah, lo previdi’, K.272
Mahler, Symphony no. 4 in G major


The Irish soprano Ailish Tynan was in excellent voice on her birthday at the BBC NOW’s latest Swansea Grand Theatre concert, her warm, creamy tone backed with ample reserves of power. What was most remarkable was how immediately and confidently she could inhabit two completely different musical atmospheres, the passionate rages and dying falls in the Mozart scena, and the naive, almost heartless ecstasy of the finale of Mahler’s Fourth. This ability on the part of top singers to adjust their musical resources with complete conviction in the space of a single concert goes too often unnoticed and unremarked. The Mozart aria, a furious lament written in 1777 apparently for Paisiello’s opera Andromeda, is one of those pieces whose combination of dramatic energy and control might have caused its ostensible beneficiary to be only dubiously grateful to have it; it certainly gives both singer and orchestra plenty to do. Jac van Steen, who was the NOW’s principal guest conductor for eight years from 2005, balanced the forces skilfully, both here and in the last of Haydn’s ‘Paris’ symphonies, where the woodwinds were in particularly fine form – especially in the beautiful dialogues for flute and two oboes in the slow movement which turn the symphony for a moment almost into a wind concerto. The opening movement was taken at a fairly relaxed pace, but there was plenty of drive in the stirring, bustling finale.

The Mahler had great freshness and naturalness. The slightly cramped conditions of the theatre stage actually allowed the bouncing distribution of passages from section to section in the first movement to be both audibly and visibly clearer than is sometimes the case (it’s certainly the only Mahler symphony this venue could feasibly accommodate). In the eerie scherzo, the orchestra’s leader Lesley Hatfield managed the switch between two violins at different pitches with aplomb, and the slow movement climaxes were suitably grand and radiantly sombre. It was a good touch to have Ailish Tynan appear in one of the theatre’s side boxes to sing the finale, above and slightly apart from the players, just the right distance from the bells that bind the symphony together.

Neil Reeve

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