The Birmingham Mahler cycle ended last night with a late substitution when Magdalena Kozena, Simon Rattle’s partner, pulled out of Das Lied von der Erde with a demonstrable lack of voice. She started losing it in rehearsal at Aldeburgh on Friday, prompting Jane Irwin to drive five and a half hours down from Preston, only to be left on the sidelines as Madge struggled bravely through the piece.
By Birmingham, however, she had no voice left and a vacancy was declared. Good sport Jane stepped up in a green satin number and with notable aplomb.
First, though, we heard hubby conduct one of his fave pieces, Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum by Messiaen, a work that has as much colour in common with Mahler’s as a zebra with a peacock. It was like seeing Waiting for Godot before a performance of Othello.
The tenor in Das Lied, Michael Schade, could have done with more punch at the top and the orchestra seemed unsettled at two or three moments by the last change of cast and the lack of a full rehearsal with the new mezzo. But Jane Irwin is a singer of immense character and daring who dropped on occasion to pianissimo, drawing feather-light sounds from the orchestral soloists, outstanding among them the flute (Marie-Christine Zupancic), piccolo (Andrew Lane), bassoon (Gretha Tuls) and leader (Zoe Beyers).
The Abschied achieved a stark cohesion. Rattle played down the agonies of parting with a practised flutter of bucolic beauty spots. But Irwin somehow found the perfect tone for Mahler’s intentions and, at the close, her fadeout ‘ewig’ melted into Ulrich Heinen’s solo cello with an organic aptness I have never heard before. Rattle maintained 23 full seconds of silence before he dropped his arms for applause.