Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Harding review – joyous and radiant Mahler

Usher Hall, Edinburgh
In the international festival’s closing concert, Daniel Harding explored the light and shade of Mahler’s huge eighth symphony in an unforced and uplifting reading

Mahler’s gargantuan Eighth Symphony is a celebratory work in more ways than one. In terms of scale and massed forces – full symphony orchestra, organ, chorus, children’s chorus, surprising extra instrumentation and so on – it is an ambitious work to stage and a performance is always something of an occasion. And then there is the music itself. Mahler’s usually sardonic view of the world is for once replaced by something entirely more optimistic, his chosen texts portraying his belief in the redemptive power of love.

This performance from the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra and Daniel Harding, the closing concert of the Edinburgh festival, was certainly a joyous event. Some critics argue that Mahler’s world-view in the Eighth is naive and look for a more complex message underneath the affirmation, but Harding was an unashamed advocate of the joyous, uplifting nature of the music. The opening Veni creator spiritus had a hymn-like simplicity and while Harding brought more of an in-depth exploration of light and shade to the second part of the symphony, his unhurried direction allowed the music to unfold in a way that seemed entirely unforced.

In this endeavour he was joined by a strong lineup of soloists – Karen Cargill, Anna Larsson, Simon O’Neill, Christopher Maltman, Shenyang and Hanna Husáhr all playing a part; sopranos Tamara Wilson and Ida Falk Winland were particularly radiant in the second part of the work. Particular praise is due to the choral aspects of the performance – the superb National Youth Choir of Scotland Girls Choir and the Edinburgh Festival Chorus, full-voiced, warm and solid in terms of tuning. This was outgoing chorus director Christopher Bell’s final concert in charge, and the performance was a fitting farewell for the work he has done with the choir.


Rowena Smith

The GuardianTramp

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