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Maestro Bramwell Tovey

Mahler's Symphony No. 8

Dates and Venue 30 Jan & 1 Feb 2010 @ 8.00pm, | Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Vancouver

Reviewer Ed Farolan

The VSO's performance of Mahler's Symphony No. 8, the showcase event of the Cultural Olympiad 2010 was attended by a jampacked crowd last opening night . Featured artists Bramwell Tovey (Conductor), Turid Karlsen (Soprano), Measha Brueggergosman (Soprano), Tracy Dahl (Soprano), Susan Platts (Mezzo-Soprano), Sarah Fryer (Mezzo-Soprano), John Mac Master (Tenor), Russell Braun (Baritone), Denis Sedov (Bass-Baritone), Vancouver Bach Choir, Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, and the Vancouver Bach Children's Chorus received a standing ovation at the end, with bravos and cheers, and the applause continued on with the artists coming in a number of times to take their bows.

This symphony has been nicknamed "Symphony of a Thousand" because of the number of performers needed to stage the event,although (in the Vancouver performance, I counted only around 250 singers and 50 orchestra members. Mahlher disliked the nickname despite the fact that its premiere in 1910 had an almost accurate counting of the number of performers: 1030 in toto composed of 171 instrumentalists, 858 singers, and Mahler.

Mahler described his work in these words: "The 'Spiritus Creator' took hold of me and shook me and drove me...until my greatest work was done. It is so individual in content and form that I cannot describe it in words; imagine that the whole universe begins to vibrate and resound. These are no longer human voices, but planets and suns revolving.". Actually, just as his words are forced and hyberbolic, giving me the impression that his inspiration from the Spiritus was pushed down his throat, so also was the mode in which he composed this symphony. I didn't see the fluidity of Mozart or the lyricism of Beethoven in this symphony. It sounded, in my humble opinion, more like German tanks forcing their way against the enemy.

The first part of the symphony, "Hymnus-Veni, creator spiritus" was a bombastic attempt at conjuring the Holy Spirit to infuse light and love: Accende lumen sensibus/Infunde amorem cordibus, but for some reason or other, I couldn't feel this in his music. In the second part, the final scene for Goethe's Faust, he again attempts to put into music the theme of divine love. I felt again a sense of forced intensity in his composition, and I noticed that, especially with the singers, there was some kind of uneasy restraint, despite the beautiful and powerful voices of the soloists, especially tenor John Mac Master and soprano Measha Brueggergosman who, bythe way, was wearing a glitzy silvery dress which annoyed me as the lights bounced on it and came directly to my eyes.

The other soloists and singers, including the three choirs, didn't project loud enough and the orchestra was drowning their voices. No wonder it was called a Symphony of a Thousand because you needed at least 800 voices to get heard, as the orchestra was intentionally loud. Maestro Tovey whose contract has been renewed for another five years did his job accordingly; however, the fault was not in the conducting, but in the composition.

.© 2010 Ed Farolan