CBSO / Nelsons - Symphony Hall, Birmingham, 16 September 2010
Was it worth travelling all the way to Birmingham and back for just 90 minutes of music? You bet.
The CBSO kicked off their season and their Mahler cycle with the 8th Symphony. A cast of 600 filled the stage and the choir stalls and stretched around the side galleries.
Whether they were swelled in massive full chorus or hushed in contemplation, somehow Andris Nelsons, springing aerobically around the podium, kept them united in perfect balance. The astonishing acoustics of Symphony Hall warmed the sound but - unlike the Albert Hall with its ecclesiastical echo - left every word crystal-clear. With voices coming from front and sides and above, brass sounding out from behind and the Symphony Hall organ blasting out, it seemed the walls themselves were bleeding music, filling the hall with huge, glorious sound.
Purists might accuse Nelsons of living too much in the moment, of sacrificing the bigger picture for immediacy. Grabbed and gripped, physically arrested by Mahler's vision, I have no doubt the trade off was worth it. Even the most perfect of recordings could never come close to capturing the impact, so I'm glad they didn't try (or so it appeared).
Any nit-picking would be beside the point. All the soloists were up to the job, with Carolyn Sampson and Katerina Karnéus making the strongest impression. But inevitably the immaculately schooled massed singers of the CBSO adult, youth and children's choruses and the Hallé Choir were the real stars.
Here's an illicit video of the final minutes (not taken by me, and I don't condone recording performances, but....)