Mahlers Symphony No.3 in D minor is epic in many ways. Not only does the composer deploy a huge orchestra, with off-stage percussionists and post-horn, but there are also two choirs , of boys and ladies, and a mezzo-soprano soloist. Marshalling these forces and having the ability to convey the architecture of the work (which clocks in at just over an hour and a half) is no mean feat for the conductor, but Vladimir Jurowski not only had the measure of the work, but conducted a performance of such elemental power and transcendental beauty that he had the audience on its feet at the close.
His pacing of this vast work was unerring the first movement had colossal guts and drive, whilst he brought a wonderful lilting feel to the second where he was rewarded with some sensational woodwind playing. The third movement was rendered unforgettable by Paul Benistons peerless playing of the offstage post-horn, mesmerising the capacity audience and introducing an ethereal atmosphere to the proceedings.
Soloist Petra Lang continued in this vein her hushed utterances of Nietzsches verses held the audience spellbound, whilst the singing of both choirs was exceptional. Jurowskis expansive tempo for the sixth movement at first seemed too laboured but the warmth and depth of tone that the players in the string section produced made it appear perfectly judged, whilst the climax of the work was properly apocalyptic and shattering. Special praise for the exemplary playing of Mark Templeton (trombone) and Robert Hill (clarinet) but all the sections of the orchestra were on top form, making this concert not only a thrilling start to the season but a benchmark for the forthcoming Mahler celebrations.
Mahler 3 is usually programmed on its own but as a curtain-raiser we were treated to an evocative reading of Zemlinksys Six Maeterlinck Songs with Petra Lang revelling in the late Romantic seductiveness of the piece.
Further details of Royal Festival Hall concerts can be found at southbankcentre.co.uk