Music review: Prague Symphony Orchestra, Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Even by Mahler’s standards, his third symphony is something of a marathon, coming in just shy of two hours under the beautifully measured beat of conductor Pietari Inkinen and the on-form Prague Symphony Orchestra.

Pietari Inkinen

Prague Symphony Orchestra, Usher Hall, Edinburgh ****  

With meticulous precision they revealed the architecture of each of the six movements as well as the overall emotional journey of the work, no easy task given the vast universes Mahler packs into his symphonies.

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Part one began with the horns calling over the faint timpani heartbeats, leading the orchestra on a series of marches, some more sombre than others, before exploring the flora and fauna of the natural world in the next two movements. There was plenty of stylish swagger in the series of minutes as the orchestra moved with alacrity between the frequently changing time-signatures then meandered through the restless scherzo, complete with hunting calls from an off-stage flugelhorn.

Just over an hour into the symphony, there was a tonal change as mezzo Ester Pavlů exuded warmth and poignancy in Mahler’s setting of Nietzsche’s Midnight Song in the fourth movement.

In contrast to this grounded earthiness, the boys’ and women’s choirs, featuring the National Youth Choir of Scotland, Edinburgh Royal Choral Union and Edinburgh University Chamber Choir, added an angelic aura to the orchestral textures in the penultimate movement.

It was then left to the orchestra to pull all the threads of this diverse symphony together for the satisfying finale. Throughout there were exceptional turns from the horn, trombone, trumpet and violin principals. Susan Nickalls