Review: Mahler in Miniature at St Andrew’s Hall in Norwich

Norfolk and Norwich Festival' N sculptures at The Forum. PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY.

Norfolk and Norwich Festival' N sculptures at The Forum. PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY. - Credit: SIMON FINLAY

After Mahler in vast magnificence, the Norfolk and Norwich Festival offered us Mahler in miniature, with reduced instrumental forces but not diminished as music. The Fourth Symphony was performed in the arrangement that Erwin Stein made for a series of concerts put on by Arnold Schoenberg in Vienna in the hard-pressed years after the First World War.

Stuart Dunlop, UEA's director of music, directed Northern Chords, an ensemble made up of string quartet, flute, oboe and clarinet, piano, harmonium (or rather electronic keyboard) and imaginatively varied percussion.

With the Welsh mezzo-soprano Samantha Price contributing the vocal element in the final movement, the performance had drama and pronounced character, vivid colouration and plenty of force.

The concert had begun with Banno Sachs' clever adaptation of Debussy's Prelude a l'Apres-Midi. From the flute's arabesques at the start, the scoring captured the rich, seductive sensuality of the mysterious tone poem.

Without texts or English words, it was hard to respond to Stein and Takmann's version of Alexander Zemlinsky's settings of German translations of six songs originally written in French by the Belgian poet Maurice Maeterlinck. Samantha Price was plainly doing her best to be expressive, but her efforts conveyed only a general impression.

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Christopher Smith

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