Classical review: BBC SSO - Mahler

The refurbished City Halls, Glasgow - now home to the BBC SSO. Picture: TSPL
The refurbished City Halls, Glasgow - now home to the BBC SSO. Picture: TSPL
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IN THURSDAY’S performance of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony with the BBC SSO, Donald Runnicles took us for a walk on the musical wild side.

BBC SSO: Mahler - City Halls, Glasgow

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For this is Mahler, in a symphony he never lived to hear performed, living on the very edge, recreating the turmoil of his last years with a torrent of gnawing contrapuntal complexity, extreme harmonic adventure and utter spent emotion.

It was in the final three movements that Runnicles’ windswept journey truly reached its heights. Not that the huge opening Andante, with its tolling harps, the horn’s faltering heartbeat, and an ensuing argument embracing the limits of human expression, failed to touch us. There just wasn’t that same sense of everything clicking meticulously into place that was to make its immediate impact from the earthbound solidity of the second movement onwards.

For what followed simply blew our minds. Runnicles drew every ounce of lift and tilt from the delightful clumsiness of the Ländler-like dances, ratcheting up the tension a notch in the Rondo-Burleske, with its violent outbursts of contrapuntal insanity, then to be embraced by the sumptuous warmth of the final Adagio, the aching sentiment of its opening theme and those final moments of unending calm.

Arvo Pärt’s mystical Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten was effectively positioned as a prologue to the main work, connected by tolling bells and common key, of course. All in all, an evening of delirious highs that, by the time the performance reaches Edinburgh tomorrow, will be truly sensational.

Seen on 24.04.14