Before the BBC Symphony Orchestra's 2015/16 season opening, Mahler 3 conducted by Sakari Oramo.

Mahler / Symphony No.3 / BBC SO / Oramo / Barbican

This wasn’t an entirely faultless performance. Some of the opening movement felt ragged and the third movement off-stage sequence had some technical problems. But that wasn’t actually that much of a problem, if anything exposing a sense of vulnerability and creating a sense of jeopardy as a result. The Barbican’s clear acoustic takes no prisoners, something which is, conversely, to the benefit of the audience. This was a gritty performance.

The performance grabbed attention from the start. Mahler’s specific textures are more transparent in the Barbican which make them, in turn, all the more fascinating. Sakari Oramo creating and maintaining a highly-charged atmosphere which made any technical errors inconsequential as a result.  Mezzo-soprano Karen Cargill’s O Mensch! Gib acht!  was full-bodied with a gratifying clear-cut diction. The BBC Symphony Chorus and Trinity Boys Choir added a vivid texture to the fifth movement.

It was the sixth movement which really pinned me to my seat: Mahler’s jaw-dropping evocation of God’s love will force even the most hard-nosed individual to stop what they’re doing and pay attention. So it was here. Aching beauty sculpted by the BBC Symphony’s string players whose commitment made for a heart-stopping experience.  The sixth movement was quite the most incredible thing.

I’ve waited a few days before writing about this concert because I couldn’t reconcile the ocassional errors I’d heard with how I had been so completely riveted during the concert. Now I’ve listened (for a third time) via BBC iPlayer, I love this performance even more than I did when I left the auditorium. Oramo and the BBC Symphony Orchestra achieved something quite remarkable: a memorable and all-consuming performance filled with determination. A slightly more academic review can be found here.

Oramo said after the concert that he only really listens to something back if he’s doing a recording session or if he’s preparing for another concert in which he’s conducting the same work. I was surprised to learn that when he told me, largely because I feel he’s missing out on something. But when I thought about it more, I wondered what it was he experienced during the same performance and whether his emotional response to the music had been similar to mine

There’s time yet to ask him. Post-concert General Manager Paul Hughes announced that Sakari’s contract with the BBC Symphony Orchestra has been extended to 2020. Really fantastic news for players and audience alike.

  • The BBC Symphony Orchestra’s next concert is on Saturday 3 October at the Barbican, concluding a day of talks films and chamber concerts featuring Henry Gorecki’s music.
  • On Thursday 8 October, also at the Barbican, Ilan Volkov will conduct a programme featuring Mendelssohn’s and Beethoven’s Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage, plus a Richard Ayres commission and a Haydn symphony. 

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