I must have written that a hundred times. But I have never heard the principle better exemplified than on Thursday night in Donald Runnicles's stupendous opening-night performance of Mahler's Fifth Symphony with the artillery of the BBC SSO in blazing form.
Now then, why was less more? And how on earth can you have "less" in Mahler, for goodness sake, when, surely, the music of Mahler begins with "more" and proceeds to "even more".
Yes, commonly it does. And no one could suggest Donald Runnicles understated anything in the performance of the Fifth, from the lugubriousness of its funeral march to the ghoulish and garish elements of its fantasy material, to the loveliness of the great slow movement to the irrepressible, ultimately decisive majesty of its finale.
But you know what else he did? All of these elements were filtered through a triple principle of cogency, coherence and cohesiveness. For all its "bigness", the epic symphony, in all its components, felt a lot more lucid, and sounded a lot less exaggerated, than it usually does.
This will sound pretentious, but it felt real; it felt true. All of Mahler's gestures were represented in riveting detail; but the performance itself was not gestural; it was powered by a flawless sense of momentum (I'll leave you to work all that out). A great performance from a golden band with a solid-gold conductor, preceded by a crackling account of Britten's Building Of The House Overture and a wonderfully relaxed performance of Mahler songs with the awesome American baritone Thomas Hampson, whose lightness of tone and miraculous use of head voice were a wonder to hear.