Mahler Symphony No. 8 in E flat

Bournemouth Symphony Chorus1

Mahler’s Symphony No 8 in E flat: Lighthouse Concert Hall, Poole

Nearly 400 singers and musicians all but raised the Poole Lighthouse roof with this spirited  and uplifting performance of  Gustav Mahler’s Eighth Symphony.

Three remarkable  groups of choristers - The Bournemouth Symphony Chorus, the Bath Minerva Choir and the Bournemouth Symphony Youth Chorus - joined forces with the Amadeus Orchestra to perform this mighty work. Under the baton of international conductor and chorus master Gavin Carr (pictured below left)

GavinCarr Conducting

 Mahler's 8th is one of the largest-scale choral works in the classical repertoire - a work that at the time of its  premiere in September 1910 was considered so radical that it pushed the very boundaries of the symphonic form.

It was the artistic triumph of Mahler’s life and a return to form after a difficult period when his work seemed to be falling out of favour with critics and audiences alike.

The Eighth Symphony blasted him back into favour. It was complex, powerful and dynamic but full of subtlety and nuance too. It received a 20 minute standing ovation. That original concert in Munich earned the piece the nickname Symphony of a Thousand. It was not a term that Mahler took kindly to. He dismissed it as a publicity stunt and considered it was all a bit ‘Barnum & Bailey’. Nearly 105 years later Gavin Carr didn’t quite have a 1,000 performers to call but he’d certainly mustered an  impressive band of performers to deliver a bravura performance that had no need of gimmicks.

There were eight superb soloists - sopranos Naomi Harvey, Suzanne Manuell and Keri Fuge; Messo sopranos Marie Elliot  and Marianne Andersen; tenor Jonathan Stoughton, bass James Platt and baritone Mark Stone who was standing in at short notice for an indisposed William Dazeley. They were simply stunning.

Under astute direction from Carr on the podium, the choirs, orchestra and soloists were impressive in this work of two halves. The first part of Mahler’s eighth is a wonderfully extravagant setting from the Latin hymn Veni Creator Spiritus - a cry for salvation, a prayer for divine power. The second part is in  German and finds Goethe’s Faust, who you may recall sold his soul to the Devil, finding love, redemption and a place heaven. Mention must go too to the work of Jean Holt, musical director of the Bournemouth Symphony Youth Chorus, who conducted her impressive young charges from the singers terrace.

Mahler’s Eight Symphony is both a musical and spiritual journey and certainly not an easy one.  A work of this size and complexity could easily get out of control. It didn’t. Carr handled the huge number of voices and musicians with a boisterous glee that disguised his steely determination.

 As he said while he was preparing for the concert.: “The amount of sound involved in Part I is simply majestic and I expect all of us to be lifted on the energy and carried to great heights. Part II has many more contemplative moments of incredible delicacy, but ends of course with a blazing Chorus Mysticus.” He won’t have been disappointed. The audience and performers loved every moment

A second performance of Mahler’s Eight Symphony will be staged at Exeter Cathedral tonight (Friday 24th July)

Jeremy Miles

© Jeremy Miles 2022