Music review: Mahler’s Eighth Symphony

Not one inch of space was left unfilled on the Usher Hall stage
Not one inch of space was left unfilled on the Usher Hall stage
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Mahler’s Eighth Symphony is both a glorious visual spectacle and music to the ears. Not one inch of space was left unfilled on the Usher Hall stage for Sunday’s Festival finale, conducted by Daniel Harding. What a sight! What a sound!

Usher Hall, Edinburgh *****

efore Harding, the sprawling ranks of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra; behind them the myriad black shirts of the Edinburgh Festival Chorus; in between, a sea of red-clad youth marking the territory of the NYCoS Girls Choir; and let’s not ­forget the eight soloists, or the additional ranks of brass who squeezed into the rear galleries, giving ecstatic fullness to the climaxes of both parts of this so-called Symphony of a Thousand.

We’ve heard this work many times at the International Festival, and in many different ways. This one was utterly refreshing, sung with gut-felt emotion and electrifying conviction, Harding’s orchestra eliciting magically unnerving moments from the score.

But besides this performance’s unfaltering momentum and gripping cohesion, there was something more: a challenging rawness, a sense of danger and unease, in the way Harding probed the innermost conflicting details.

Among a fine team of ­soloists, soprano Tamara Wilson shone magnificently. And what a way for outgoing EIF chorus master Christopher Bell to sign off.

KEN WALTON