REVIEW: Film of Leonard Bernstein conducting Mahler’s 2nd ‘Resurrection’ Symphony in Ely Cathedral in 1973 is a ‘splendid evening’s entertainment’

PUBLISHED: 10:40 28 August 2018 | UPDATED: 10:40 28 August 2018

Graham Austin who had attended the original performance and who was also present at the film on Friday.

Graham Austin who had attended the original performance and who was also present at the film on Friday.


Other than on the small TV screen, I had never seen a film of a concert on such a grand scale before.

Humphrey Burton CBE who had been a personal friend and colleague of Leonard Bernstein. Photo: Rosemary Westwell.Humphrey Burton CBE who had been a personal friend and colleague of Leonard Bernstein. Photo: Rosemary Westwell.

I had always believed that a live concert was the only type worth watching. However, on Friday, I had a change of mind.

The film of Leonard Bernstein conducting the Londonn Symphony Orchestra playing Mahler’s 2nd ‘Resurrection’ Symphony in Ely Cathedral, shown in the same building some years later had a much greater impact than expected.

After a fascinating discussion by Humphrey Burton CBE and Tommy Pearson, the film began.

In it, not only could we appreciate the depth and expressiveness of Mahler’s composition, we could feel that we were right there inside the orchestra, experiencing the same tension and thrill that comes from being involved in the performing the work.

With clever directorship of the film by Humphrey Burton, we had a close up view of the individual performers or sections of the orchestra as their musical material became the most prominent for the moment as the work developed.

It was easy to understand why Bernstein said that he wanted to feel that he was creating the piece afresh when he was conducting.

In this film we were able to watch the expression on the conductor’s face much more keenly than at a live performance when members of the orchestra are usually the only ones to have that pleasure.

Leonard Bernstein’s expressiveness was phenomenal. He lived through the music, conveying the inner depth of the music’s meaning with his whole being, at one moment encouraging the strings to be lyrical and beautiful: at another commanding the most aggressive and passionate outbursts from the whole orchestra.

We did not see the conductor reading his score; he mouthed the words from memory as he inspired the choir: The Edinburgh Festival Chorus to sing resonantly and beautifully. The soloists (Dame Janet Baker and Sheila Armstrong) were amazing.

Even I can remember the famous Janet Baker and her delightful sounds and in this film on Friday we could relive the joy that her wonderful rich and powerful voice gives. Both soloists indeed endorsed my belief that a fine voice can project the softest of sounds beautifully when the technique is right.

There was another significant contributor to the effectiveness of the film and that was Ely Cathedral Herself.

When we saw close ups of this fine building we could appreciate afresh the sheer magnificence of the building.

Close ups brought to us detail that is otherwise lost as we gaze at the building from afar.

We could appreciate that this cathedral has lasted the test of time, not only of the years represented by the evening’s film, but the many more years from when the cathedral was first built.

This was indeed a splendid evening’s entertainment and I look forward to seeing more films of momentous concerts that I would normally be unable to witness because of time or distance constraints.

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