Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Keith Bruce

five stars

IT is, I think, more than a decade since Jane Irwin appeared in a concert platform with our national orchestra, and rather longer since the Herald Angel winner was a very regular principal with Scottish Opera. After this performance of Mahler’s song-symphony Das Lied von der Erde, we must hope that her relationship with Scotland, where she lived earlier in her career, is permanently re-kindled.

A mezzo in those years, Irwin has more recently sung soprano repertoire and was billed here as an alto, the sole lesson of which is that she has a marvellous instrument with a huge range. She was teamed here with New Zealander Simon O’Neill, who has visited us more often of late, and who would properly be described as a dramatic tenor if that adjective was not rarely applied to male voices. O’Neill is properly theatrical in concert performances, and if the drama in Irwin’s performance was initially more contained within her vocal expression, the pairing was luxury casting for what is probably Mahler’s most approachable work, at the same time as being potentially the most awe-inspiring.

In the fourth song, Of Beauty, Irwin became nearly as animated as her colleague, as if imparting crucial classified information about womankind, while her account of the work’s closing Farewell, one of the most moving pieces in all music, was breath-catching, and rewarded with a long silence before the deserved rapturous applause.

Conductor Thomas Sondergard shaped all of this immaculately, as he had done Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra before the interval. The RSNO strings were on superb form in that, and there was wonderful solo playing from front desks and principal players all evening, with leader Maya Iwabuchi, first flute Katherine Bryan, the trumpet of Chris Hart and horn Andrew McLean just some of those making fine personal contributions.