It may have been Sunday’s ‘other’ concert but Neil Sowerby found a similar message in this philharmonic triumph

IT was the ‘other’ concert in Manchester on Sunday night but just as remarkable in its own way - a gargantuan homage to one of the high water points of the Western music.

When Arnold Schoenberg began writing Gurrelieder in 1900 he was a tyro composer, trying to make his mark in competitions; by the time it was finally completed over a decade later the world of Viennese music had shifted towards atonality, mainly thanks to his efforts. It miffed him the public received work so rapturously, while rejecting newer, more difficult works. 

What had started off as a lushly late romantic, Nordic saga influenced song-cycle for soprano, tenor and piano became a mega cantata for a 150-strong orchestra, five soloists and a narrator; influenced by Wagner and Mahler and, as befits a tragic love story, straining towards opera.

Not a work you are going to see any season soon. That the combined forces of the Halle and BBC Phil and three choirs carried it off so triumphantly is a tribute to the magisterial conducting of the newly-70 Sir Mark Elder.

It helped to have soloists of international stature. Impressive American tenor Brandon Jovanovich bore the burden of singing King Waldemar, whose ecstatic love for Torve (Emily Magee) only grows stronger after his jealous Queen has her put to death.

Centrepiece of the whole work - when it shifts from almost oppressive, erotic self-absorption to more dynamic, shape-shifting Grand Guignol - is the narration of Torve’s sacrifice by the Wood Dove. This was sung with a raging intensity by one of our greatest mezzos, Anna Coote.

Waldemar, having cursed God for his loss, is doomed by the deity to ride futilely every night with the corpses of his vassals, the music now savage and disorienting. But redemption is at hand.

Cue the narrator, Sir Thomas Allen in Pierrot Lunaire Sprechgesang mode. Against a vast rustling orchestral canvas of spring reawakening, his words intimate the stealthy reunion of the star-crossed lovers. The transfiguration climaxes in a mixed chorus of both male and female vocal forces and epic marshalling of the orchestral forces. 

Love will conquer in the end is the message, much like One Love across the city. Before the Bridgewater concert (two hours without an interval), veteran star Sir Thomas spoke movingly to the sell-out audience about visiting St Ann’s Square end experiencing the poignant silence. 

The rest is noise.