Mahler Players

Perth Concert Hall

Michael Tumelty

four stars

MAHLER’S Ninth Symphony in a lunchtime concert slot seemed an unlikely prospect: 90 minutes of unremittingly heavyweight classical music, and played, moreover, by a chamber orchestra; an orchestra of which I had not heard. In Perth on Monday, I discovered I was not alone.

The Mahler Players were founded in 2013. The group consists mainly of musicians who live in the Highlands. Ambitious is not the word for them. Their series is entitled Mahler in Miniature. They’ve already done Mahler’s First, Fourth and Fifth Symphonies, Das Lied von der Erde and other song cycles. Why I haven’t known about them is beyond me. Sir Brian McMaster, who has agreed to be their patron, hadn’t heard them himself until Monday when he attended their debut Perth Concert Hall appearance. They are Scotland’s best-kept musical secret, though they do get around their turf, having played in Ardross, Nairn, Inverness and Perth in the last week.

Their conductor and founder is Tomas Leakey, whose own musical origins lie in his time with the Highland Regional Youth Orchestra. His Mahler Nine on a small chamber orchestra, reminiscent in its configuration of Schoenberg’s chamber groupings for private performances early last century, was outstanding. I won’t stumble over the odd fluffed notes by principals, or the strain on orchestral tuning over the 90 minutes, but you know something? In this extraordinary arrangement of the epic symphony by German pianist and conductor Klaus Simon, everything quintessentially Mahlerian was there, from the chamber music textures, properly proportioned in the reduced numbers, to the vast emotional flux of the music, all phenomenally characterised in Leakey’s pinpoint, understated interpretation. I was stunned.