Royal Festival Hall, London
The Tokyo orchestra’s swashbuckling performance of Mahler’s sixth was fabulously disciplined, crisp and purposeful, if a little too driven
This visit by Tokyo’s NHK Symphony Orchestra and its chief conductor, Paavo Järvi, was a rare UK showcase for an ensemble on bristlingly good form.
Toru Takemitsu’s 1957 Requiem for Strings unfolded in gauzy, many-layered textures, sounding reticent yet eloquent, its phrases falling into the rhythms of slow speech. At the end, a charged silence seemed to last for minutes.
Returning to the stage, Järvi didn’t even wait for the applause to stop before bursting into the opening of Mahler’s Symphony No 6. This was a swashbuckling performance, with few concessions made to the bright acoustic of the venue. But if the playing was loud, it was also often thrilling: fabulously disciplined, crisp and purposeful, and yet also expressive. The second movement had its quirky moments, the oboe piping like some long-beaked waterbird, the horns swerving in a woozy, drunken dance. The third was tender without being sentimental.
Järvi’s brisk approach paid off in many places. But ultimately, it was a bit too driven – there was no lingering, no space for the music to gather the full complement of its tragic intensity. Long before the ferocious closing pages, it felt as though Järvi and his players had already thrown the kitchen sink at us, as well as all the implements stored underneath – the off-stage cowbell player is busy in this symphony. Still, even if we had not gone on the symphony’s full emotional journey, it was quite some ride.