Festival Music

Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra

Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Martin Kershaw

five stars

IT IS grimly apt that a work as emotionally charged as Mahler’s unfinished Symphony No. 10 – written as the composer struggled to deal with terminal ill health and his wife’s infidelity – should then take some 50 tortuous years to be converted from incomplete sketches to something approaching a final version. But the result is something transcendentally wonderful – an intensely moving epitaph from one whose expressive range knew no bounds. And the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra gave us every coruscating detail in glorious, scintillating relief, an intoxicating journey through oceans of heartfelt human experience.

Their playing of the first movement alone would have left me sated – haunting monochrome refrains, swirling ecstasies of dissonance, sudden explosive tutti blasts of defiant resolve. But then we had the Scherzo, unhinged, manic changes of mood expertly navigated under the inspired direction of Yannick Nezet-Seguin, a conductor of rare ability whose focus and energy never flagged. Somehow they even made sense of the fragmentary third and fourth movements, leading us into that magnificent Finale, the ultimate affirmation of love’s triumph over existential despair. Even the disintegration of the leader’s bow in the closing, frenzied stages could not derail an awesome display.

And let’s not forget that it was all delightfully prefaced by a selection of Alma Mahler lieder, sung exquisitely by mezzo soprano Sarah Connolly, whose ardent but beautifully controlled performance found its ideal accompaniment in the lush orchestrations. Indeed, it was admirable to see soloist and ensemble maintaining such superb synchronisation throughout, with the bewitching Licht in der Nacht and passionate, spirited Erntelied especially delectable.

A fabulous concert, and undoubtedly the highlight of my Festival.