Prague Symphony Orchestra/Inkinen

Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Keith Bruce

five stars

IT speaks well of the audience that the Usher Hall has built for its Sunday Classics series (and perhaps the lack of any competition elsewhere in Scotland in offering a venue for touring international orchestras) that the prospect of a single 100-minute work did not deter a good attendance to hear the Prague Symphony Orchestra under the baton of highly-rated young Finnish conductor Pietari Inkinen.

It will also have helped ticket sales that the musicians are linking up with local singers for their performance of Mahler’s Third Symphony, in this case the NYCoS Edinburgh choir, trained by Mark Evans, and adult women from the Edinburgh Royal Choral Union and Edinburgh University Chamber Choir, both of which are directed by Michael Bawtree. However much - or little - rehearsal this combination of talents enjoyed (with Czech mezzo Ester Pavlu the other ingredient), the result was a triumph. Inkinen had every detail of this huge work perfectly in perspective and allowed it to unfold beautifully in the generous acoustic of the hall, with star turns all over the place. The nine horns of the orchestra were as one from the start, the solo trombone majestic, and Mahler’s often unusual combinations of single instruments in the epic first movement could not have been clearer. In the two pictorial movements that follow, the cinematic heritage of this orchestra was evident (it features on many a soundtrack album), and the dialogue between the offstage trumpet and the band’s brilliant, slightly eccentric, first horn, a microcosm of that.

Pavlu was the perfect Nietzschean soprano for the poet’s Midnight Song - tall, poised and slightly severe, with a voice much larger than she needed to deploy here. The contrast between her solo and the entry of the children’s voices at the start of the fifth movement was surely precisely as the composer designed, with every element in ideal balance as the women’s voices also joined the mix.

As the heart-searing instrumental hymn to divine love was passed around the strings from the cellos in the finale, it was clear that, had it happened three months earlier, this was a concert that would undoubtedly have been a highlight of this year’s Edinburgh International Festival programme.