Echoes of a Mountain Song
The Bridgewater Hall, 27 February 2016
The Germans have a word for it, though during the Nazi era it temporarily acquired a sinister connotation: aufgehoben.
On my understanding, the word means to lift yourself up, to attain a state of transcendence over one’s normal, everyday life, to lose yourself in a greater whole. You felt something like this as you listened to Delius’s A Song of the High Hills, the centrepiece of this superb concert, and it was even possible to pinpoint the exact moment when the feeling kicked in. It was when the human voices – a wordless chorus sang a song without speech, the music alone carrying meaning – faded slowly until they became completely silent.
For Delius, the mountains of Norway were his hinterland, whereas for me this sublime song evoked memories of walking in Lower Austria, on the Raxalpe and on Schneeberg. And memories of days spent in the Vienna woods, particularly one time reaching Hermannskogel, Vienna’s highest peak.
Before A Song of the High Hills, we heard Stravinsky’s Four Norwegian Moods, naturally enough also inspired by Norway. There were works by two other Russian composers after the interval as well. Rachmaninov’s Three Russian Songs were wonderful, full of Russian soul and feeling, and you could well understand how the pull of one’s homeland can be as great as any mountain. Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini, perhaps his bravest and most personal statement but a masterpiece anyway, closed the concert. An explosive tribute (you could hardly call it a harmless celebration) to forbidden love, no matter what it costs. No matter how deep the scars and the humiliation and the shame. One noticed here a thematic affinity with Don Giovanni: like Mozart and his hero, Tchaikovsky (along with his heroine) would embrace damnation for his (her) desires. Aufgehoben at any price.
Details of future Halle concerts can be found here.