Classical review: RSNO, Edinburgh

Conductor Peter Oundjian brings the orchestra into line. Picture: Jane Barlow
Conductor Peter Oundjian brings the orchestra into line. Picture: Jane Barlow
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Even by Mahler’s own standards, his Symphony No 8 is large-scale in every sense, written for 858 singers and 171 instrumentalists, earning it the sobriquet Symphony of a Thousand.

RSNO - Usher Hall, Edinburgh

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Although the combined forces of the RSNO Chorus and Junior Chorus, City of Glasgow Chorus, Edinburgh Festival Chorus and singers from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland plus eight soloists only ran to 260 plus 120 musicians, they produced a remarkable sound to match the on-stage spectacle.

It took conductor Peter Oundjian a good few minutes to bring everyone into line in the opening based on the hymn Veni creator Spiritus, particularly as Mahler is like a kid in a sweetie shop, creating tidal waves of sound just because he can. The soloists were by and large a casualty of this tsunami with only the astounding voice of soprano Erin Wall managing to float above the clamour.

A more structured and measured second part, a setting from the final scene from Goethe’s Faust, allowed space for the music, and singers, to breathe. Jonathan Lemalu’s rich bass baritone did indeed rise from the “lower regions” while baritone Nathan Berg as Pater ecstaticus, “soared”, as instructed by Mahler. Simon O’Neill’s heroic tenor and alto Caitlin Hulcup also impressed.

The exquisite choral textures were testament to the many rehearsal hours put in by RSNO chorus and junior chorus directors, Timothy Dean and Christopher Bell, respectively. Enhanced by organ, harmonium, harps, celeste, piano and mandolin, this Noah’s Ark of an orchestra ended the season on a high note with this magnificent performance.

Seen on 30.05.14