TCHAIKOVSKY Symphony 6; MENDELSSOHN Overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream
There is an immediacy and incisive, almost forensic clarity to this 2009 live performance that makes for tremendous drama at points of crisis. The crack of doom heralded by timpani at the start of the development is all-out electrifying (accentuated, of course, by a gripping, almost inaudible “fade to black” in the bass clarinet beforehand) – indeed, the forcefulness of the timpani and brass-playing throughout is nothing if not intimidating. And what a dark, saturating sostenuto from the strings at the climax – broadly paced, with trombones bearing down unforgivingly.
The late, great Sir Charles Mackerras’s way with style shows itself in tiny details: the anticipatory intake of breath before the wistful second subject arrives, the hint of portamento in the phrasing of it. Then, in the zippy march, an exciting but almost infinitesimal ritardando into the final reprise, all guns blazing. The ache of the Adagio lamentoso is not wrung out of the string sound but rather is implicit in the harmony. The final surge, one feels, is where this music has been heading all along; and note how Mackerras clears the tutti sound to let those ugly grimaces in stopped horns come through. The final pages, the ebbing away of pulse, is most affecting. But why keep in the applause when the Festival Hall audience has had the decency to remain quiet after the final bar has faded? The rest should be silence – nothing but silence.
Mendelssohn’s Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream leavens Tchaikovsky’s dark night of the soul with shimmering textures and spry articulation. So much of what Mackerras did was governed by an acute sense of what articulation can achieve – and this is a superb example.