As one of this Prom season’s chief “big-names”, the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra’s two concerts with the much-loved Mariss Jansons were quick to sell out. Tonight’s Mahler justified the high expectations with a compelling account of the huge “Resurrection” Symphony, even if the finale wasn’t quite as overwhelming as one might have hoped.

Mariss Jansons conducts the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra at the BBC Proms © BBC/Chris Christodoulou
Mariss Jansons conducts the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra at the BBC Proms
© BBC/Chris Christodoulou

There was a great deal to enjoy from the outset, with many instances of beautiful playing, but Jansons’ handling of the score was largely free of extremes. The triumphant choral finale, taken at a brisk tempo without any hint of histrionics from the podium, pushed reflection more towards the journey to resurrection, rather than the event itself. Jansons is to conduct at least eight more performances of Mahler 2 this year, in venues from Amsterdam to Brisbane, which may have influenced his slightly conservative, tightly-scripted approach. The performance still earned a huge ovation, though, such was the orchestral quality on display.

On the whole, this was a highly polished account of the symphony from one of the world’s great orchestra-conductor partnerships. The strings demonstrated a broad palette of sounds, built upon the very firm foundations of the excellent, ten-strong bass section. Their graveside opening was suitably earthy and sharp-edged, setting up some thrilling early tension. The ensuing suggestion of the rising Resurrection figure from the violins, given a feathery, airborne feel, was thus made all the more transcendent. The arc of the first movement was clearly spelled out by Jansons, applying a slower tempo to the later marches, to give a highly engaging opening. A long pause followed, in which the chorus appeared.

The second and third movements highlighted some fine woodwind playing. The graceful sweep of the waltz figures in the second was topped by lyrical and occasionally haunting solos from the principals, echoing back to the first movement. The third movement, by contrast, seemed to look ahead to the finale, with brief glimpses of the afterlife again being handled with sublime reverence.

Soloists Gerhild Romberger (mezzo) and Genia Kümeier (soprano) were both superb. The former’s handling of the “Urlicht” had a soft-edged, warm colour thanks to good control and full tone. Standing between the woodwind and harps gave a bird-like feeling to the second stanza. Kümeier was similarly expressive in the finale.

The fifth movement was attacked directly with a powerful outburst. Once again, Jansons brought out many excellent moments and maintained close control of long structure. The offstage brass interjections were admirably well-coordinated with the onstage playing, but I did wonder if better use of the vast space in the hall could have been made for the sounding of the last trump. The onstage brass playing was beautiful in the redemptive offerings of the solo trombone and horn, and there were some fearsome percussion rolls on the way to the resurrection.

The chorus for the evening was listed as a joint effort between the Bavarian Radio Chorus and WDR Radio Choir, Cologne, though the forces present seemed to be a portion of each, rather than their full contingents. They remained seated well beyond the magically quiet first outing of the Resurrection hymn, maintaining a wonderful hush. Consonants were exceptionally soft and well rounded, and the sound drifted out beautifully across the suffocatingly quiet hall.

The stage was set for a magnificent end to the symphony, but in the event it was merely very good. A small electronic organ, though not causing the same tuning difficulties as the hall organ, was a little feeble, and the chorus was not as full as it might have been. Still, this was a highly proficient performance in all, and was close to being superb.