Classical review: BBC SSO: Mahler 5, Glasgow

The links that exist between Britten and Mahler, and between Mahler’s songs and his symphonies, all came together in a blistering season opening concert by the BBC SSO under its chief conductor Donald Runnicles.

The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra on stage at its home in Glasgow City Halls. Picture: Complimentary

BBC SSO: Mahler 5 - City Halls, Glasgow

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The triumphant tone was established from the word go, in a performance of Britten’s Overture: The Building of the House that possessed all the frenetic virtuosity and high-level tension that was later to ignite the spiritual restlessness of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony.

But just to complete the preparation, American baritone Thomas Hampson joined the orchestra in a selection of Mahler songs, mainly from Des Knaben Wunderhorn, with one other – the gorgeous Ging’ heut morgen from Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen – completing a sequence that Hampson delivered with an uncanny, rapt simplicity, and with a compelling sense of communication that gave meaning to every naturally spun phrase.

And then the big one. From the opening clarion call on solo trumpet – raw, ripe and unconducted – this Mahler 5 was always going to be one loaded with attitude. And from the moment Runnicles took up the reins in response, there was razor sharp definition, taut-as-hell energy, and a sense of thrill that filled the opening movement with blistering heat. He sought out the demons, remorseless gameplay, and occasional mischief of the scherzo, gave sumptuous repose to the adagietto, and sent the finale blazing to its high-spirited end.