Sunday Classics new season continues with Prague Symphony Orchestra filling an otherwise cold November Edinburgh with the warmth of the music of Gustav Mahler with his Symphony No. 3. Matching Mahler’s own quote that “A symphony must be like the world. It must contain everything”, this afternoon’s performance also features a chorus from National Youth Choir of Scotland, Edinburgh Royal Choral Union and Edinburgh University Chamber Choir, with conductor Pietari Inkinen. As if all of this were not enough, Czech (Prague born) mezzo-soprano Ester Pavlu is also our vocalist for this performance.
Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 is a work that requires every performer on stage to bring its full complexity of creation to life as it weaves effortlessly from the most intricate and demanding of classical musical construction to the simplicity of nursery tunes. Along the way on our musical journey, Mahler also incorporates everything around his life, taking inspiration from folk tales, folk songs, military marches, comedy, tragedy and so much more. It is clear here that Mahler is filling every moment of the world that he is creating with his music with sound and, here, that ever changing sound takes on almost mystical properties at times.
Mahler never liked to discuss in any depth what his work was about, feeling instead that if you did not understand from listening to it that he had somehow “failed” in his goals, and, his 3rd symphony is no different. This work is generally regarded as part of a creative arc referred to as “The Wunderhorn Symphonies” that incorporates the 2nd, 3rd and 4th symphonies.
Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 is a long work, and at roughly 100 minutes is one of the longest in modern performances, but even then, with vocals/choir taking up only four minutes or so of this performance time, there is that strange feeling that something is missing, that something extra needs to be there at times (Mahler had intended this work to be longer). This though is just a personal feeling and conductor Pietari Inkinen does appear to have a special insight into this work as he brings out from the Prague Symphony Orchestra the many different sounds and emotions that Mahler obviously intended his audience to experience from this work. Here is a work that is constantly shifting its dramatic mood and musical colours and tones, and if Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 were a person, I think it could easily be defined as having a personality disorder.
In this work, Mahler is celebrating the many wonders of the world that was around him, and he is an artist here that is painting his pictures with sound, and the only way to truly experience his vision is to hear it performed like today with an orchestra, choirs and a vocalist in a classical concert hall like The Usher Hall where the music has space to breathe and come to life. There are times when recordings on old vinyl records, modern CDs, DVDs or online sources (if you can bear the terrible sound quality) simply will not do. This music was written to be performed live and experienced like this afternoon’s performance.
Review by Tom King