Nottingham came out in full force to see its Philharmonia Orchestra play Mozart and Mahler on Friday, with the concert hall packed, including the choir stalls. The evening featured the conductor, Lahav Shani, also as a concerto pianist, and sometimes the two roles were merged simultaneously.  

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in Saltzburg, Austria in 1756, and his music is characteristic of the prolific classical period. One of the best known composers of all time, it is of no surprise that his music is still frequently performed today, with Piano Concerto No. 20 in Nottingham this week. The Nottingham Philharmonia Orchestra observed the classical trait of terraced dynamics (sudden changes in loud and soft rather than gradual), ranging from the full orchestral body to solo instruments in the build up to the piano entry. Mozart’s characteristically high, resounding oboe note is heard throughout the piece, contrasting with the faster scalic piano passages.

It was rare to be able to view and appreciate the contrary motion piano passages, as the piano is usually placed sideways in concertos, with restricted viewing for piano keys. There was an almost comic effect in Lahav Shani’s method of conducting from behind the piano, sometimes with his left hand keeping time for the orchestra, and the right hand playing the piano. Any preoccupations with comedy, however, disappear in the admiration of Shani’s mastering of the elaborate Mozartaein cadenza (the soloist’s opportunity to really show off).

“The standard Mozart trill featured prominently in movements one and three, but was almost entirely absent from movement two”

Movement two opened with solo piano in contrast to the long orchestral introduction of movement one. This movement was a calming change of tone from the first, pervaded by true Mozartaein swells.

The standard Mozart trill featured prominently in movements one and three, but was almost entirely absent from movement two. Although an impressive three movements were played, there were a few too many bows and exits, followed by returns for more bowing for the end of the first half; it was only halfway through, after all.

Gustav Mahler was born in the Czech Republic in 1860, and his music is of a transitional nature between the Romantic and Modernism periods. His first symphony opened on Friday with haunting harmonics on the violin, followed by a falling motif of call and response across the orchestra.

“The orchestra truly gave the second half their all”

In line with the development of new instruments between Mozart and Mahler’s eras, the orchestra’s size increased between the first and second half, with a particularly large horn section appearing for Mahler’s Symphony No. 1. In the second half, the conductor was more comfortably situated in the conductor’s stand, but conducted without a score of sheet music. A risky choice, but one which paid off without a single blunder. He was even complete with a baton for the second half.

The tempo tended to quicken as the orchestral texture thickened, in anticipation of musical climaxes. There was a much greater focus on brass than in the Mozart, with extra accentuation from the percussion as well, for example, the impressively loud cymbal clashes.

The orchestra truly gave the second half their all; the enthusiasm was particularly clear in the first violinist, who flicked her hair whilst playing to anticipate the climaxes for the audience.

“The Nottingham Philharmonia Orchestra played very impressively with fantastic programme choices”

The second movement is certainly the most readily recognisable movement of the symphony, with an explosive ending that compelled even those safe in the knowledge that they shouldn’t clap, to do so.

A solo double bass opening for movement three is swiftly mimicked by the woodwind, and brass mutes are exploited throughout this movement. Varied timbres highlighted certain instrument groups, and close harmonies held the audience’s attention. Although ominous drum beats seem to signal the end of the piece halfway through the final movement, the orchestra explosively returned for a more dramatic finale.

The Nottingham Philharmonia Orchestra played very impressively with fantastic programme choices, and a thoroughly enjoyable evening was had by all in attendance.


Isla McLachlan

Image sourced via Theatre Royal Nottingham

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