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Reviews: Alan Gilbert & Leipzig Gewandhaus in Mahler & Beethoven at Proms

Posted October 07, 2014

Music Director Alan Gilbert conducted the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra at September's BBC Proms in London. Gilbert replaced the Gewandhaus music director, Riccardo Chailly (who had a broken arm), for its season-opening concerts, September 7–12, in Leipzig, Berlin, Lucerne, and at the BBC Proms.

On September 11, at Royal Albert Hall, Gilbert led Mahler's Third Symphony that The Independent wrote "blew not just our socks but everything else off," and that Music OMH called "exciting" in a 4.5/5-star review: 

[W]hat Gilbert achieved certainly ticked all the boxes as far as I was concerned. Tempos were generally on the swift side, especially in the first movement, yet there was clarity of texture in every bar and he certainly had the unwieldy structure of the entire symphonic span within his grasp. Mahler often interspersed the grotesque and banal within his symphonies and here Gilbert allowed the vulgar marching band snippets their chance to shine.

On September 12, Gilbert conducted the Gewandhaus in the Proms's traditional penultimate performance of Beethoven's Ninth. The Telegraph, in a four-out-of-five-star review, called it an "urgent and often thrilling performance": 

Though the orchestra was large, the sound was light and lithe. ... And yet this wasn’t “Beethoven-lite”. The first movement’s fast pace evoked a relentless march, and the dotted rhythms had a cruel precision. In the Scherzo the kettle-drums assailed our ears with a minatory clatter, and because Gilbert held the strings back the wood-winds and brass seized the centre-stage, like a military band in triumphal mode. Everywhere the military strain of the symphony shone out with unusual clarity.

Standing against that was the lyrical second movement, and here the curling ornamented lines unfolded with delicate grace, as if they were coming from the hands of one pianist rather than a dozen or so violinists. ... This was a Beethoven Nine well worth hearing. 

The Guardian said, "the combination of grace and urgency in the slow movement proved compelling ... and the finale was tremendous. ... There were fine insights from Gilbert here, too, from the almost imperceptible first emergence of the Freude theme out of the silence that preceded it, to the thrillingly precise, yet almost frenzied elation of the closing bars."