Music review: RSNO: Mahler & Bruckner, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

There was a time when Mahler and Bruckner were conveniently paired in history as a single entity representative of the exorbitant summit of symphonic Romanticism. Time has debunked that, as did this RSNO programme, which prefaced Bruckner’s rock-like Fourth Symphony with the mercurial opening Adagio of Mahler’s unfinished Tenth.

Thomas Sondergard PIC: Tom Finnie

RSNO: Mahler & Bruckner, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall *****

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There was commonality, however, in two equally breathtaking performances under the nurturing baton of Thomas Søndergård. His Mahler was a triumph of consummation, a composer troubled in spirit but assured in his anguished quest for universal understanding. The Bruckner symphony, known as the Romantic and built around blocks of musical granite, seemed so much more tangible, a heaving edifice firmly fixed to the ground.

A recurring viola theme, Parsifal-like in its autumnal meandering, defines the underlying mood of the Mahler, its attempts to tame the angels and demons – the biting chattering of the woodwind or the soaring unpredictability of the violin melodies – resulting in a final transcendental valediction. Mahler takes tonality to the cliff edge. Søndergård’s caressing approach allowed this potentially unstable music to take flight.

His Bruckner was also a triumph of judgment. On the one hand there was an earthen magnitude, great columns of sound creating a framework as solid as a medieval cathedral. On the other, there was a delicious lightness of touch and silken cohesion of textures that gave an effortless inevitability to the opening movement, spider-like tracery to the unlaboured Andante, bucolic charm to the Scherzo and golden resolution to the Finale. - Ken Walton