Live Review: University Philharmonia Orchestra and Choir @ Albert Hall, Nottingham (24/03/12)

The University Philharmonia and Choir performance of Mahler’s 2nd Symphony on Saturday 24th March was a huge testament to the strength and depth of musical talent at the University of Nottingham, which ranges across many ages and academic disciplines.

At face value, Mahler 2 presents a colossal obstacle to any University Orchestra, considering the monumental scale of the Symphony, both in concept and necessary performing forces, and the expectation created by the vast emotional weight and power of the piece. Add to this the relatively small number of rehearsal hours available and the fiendish difficulty of some of the passages, and you get some idea of what they were up against. Therefore a huge amount of credit has to be paid to the work of conductor Jonathan Tilbrook, whose talent, encouragement and charisma helped to extract a genuinely moving performance from the ensemble.

Over the past couple of weeks there had been, at least in the Music Department, an indisputable buzz of excitement about the upcoming concert, which was clearly detectable in the Albert Hall audience, and definitely transferred into performance. The tense atmosphere created by the opening string tremolo and the aggressively charged nature of the following cello motif set the tone for the remainder of the evening, which was laced with similarly electric moments and which, for a University performance, was difficult to fault.

Other than the opening, highlights of the Symphony included the performances of solo soprano Anna Dennis and mezzo-soprano Jeanette Ager, who sang brilliantly, with Jeanette Ager’s beautiful performance in Urlicht being particularly touching. Special mention must also go to the Horn section, which carried out a rousing rendition full of gusto (and clearly paid attention to when the use of ‘bells up’ technique was necessary!), and the various instrumental soloists, such as principal violinist Rebecca Hutter and principal trombonist Joseph Matthews, who delivered confident and accurate performances.

The eventual entry of the Choir in the final movement was extremely delicate and moving, creating great contrast with the frenzy into which the orchestra had previously built itself, before the opposite end of their dynamic range was exploited to great effect as the Symphony neared its completion. Finally, it goes without saying that the explosive climax of the orchestra finale sent shivers down the spine.

The audience applause lasted a solid five minutes, and deservedly so, and for those who were in attendance, the benchmark has been set. We can only hope that future concerts live up to a similarly high standard!

Peter Fisher


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