MOST people who say they have never heard Mahler’s Seventh Symphony would probably prick up their ears on hearing its signature phrase and wrack their brains to remember where they’d heard it.
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Playhouse, Greenside Place
The answer is Castrol GTX, the ‘Liquid Engineering’ advert for which it provided the soundtrack, and yes this ballet interpretation was indeed a well-oiled machine.
The Royal Scottish National Orchestra under the baton of Wen-Pin Chien was in exhilarating form exploring the light and darkness which is the hallmark of the symphony’s five movements, culminating with the famous clattering cowbell finale.
Choreographer Martin Schlapfer has produced a suitably contrasting take, with heavy-booted violence juxtaposing with movements of beautiful tenderness executed with vigour by the Ballet am Rhein Dusseldorf Duisburg’s stunning dancers.
The set is stripped bare and the dancers dressed with stark simplicity – the males topless with plain black trousers, the females in black dresses and hair up like a more prim Robert Palmer video – which put the focus firmly on the relationship between movement and the music.
The deliberate use of Riverdance-esque stamping heavy boots in some of the quieter passages, especially in the first movement, will not please Mahler purists – if the great man had wanted percussion there, he’d have scored it – but as a statement it undoubtedly works.
It’s not necessary to have studied the programme notes or fully grasp every aspect of Schlapfer’s concepts to appreciate what at the high points is a sizzling spectacle, although for the average audience member it’s a distinct advantage not to come to a work of such complexity cold.
Nevertheless, the packed Playhouse crowd lapped it up and if Schlapfer is looking for a repeat of this success, it would be interesting indeed to see what he could do with the even darker Ninth Symphony.
But no boots in the last movement, please.