The Royal Swedish Orchestra is, with more than 490 years of history, one of the oldest still active orchestras in the world and one of Sweden's most prominent. Besides being the main orchestra of the Royal Swedish Opera, it also performs concerts at diverse concert halls, tonight's being the Konserthuset in Stockholm. Together with the Adolf Fredriks Gosskör (Boys Choir), the Ladies of the Royal Swedish Opera Chorus and alto soloist Bernarda Fink, the ensemble presented a wonderful performance of Mahler's Third Symphony under the conduction of Lawrence Renes.

Lawrence Renes © Jan-Olav Wedin
Lawrence Renes
© Jan-Olav Wedin

Having risen to international prominence when he replaced Riccardo Chailly at a concert with the Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam in 1995, Renes has served as the chief conductor of the Royal Swedish Orchestra since 2012.

The performance of Mahler's Third was very proficient and all of the constituent parts demonstrated being entirely up to the task of playing the longest symphony in the repertoire, and a very complex one. At times Renes' tempo became a bit swift and took away some of the desirable weight of the symphony, for instance the flutes in the first movement. That movement's trombone solo, however, was to my ears the highlight of the evening.

During the second movement, the oboe's slight rigidity hindered the flow of the music which, together with the conductor's relative swiftness, contributed to a less harmonious movement. The third and following one was a dreamlike experience; had it not been for the slight instability of the off-stage post horn solo, it would have been perfection itself.

Bernarda Fink © Jan-Olav Wedin
Bernarda Fink
© Jan-Olav Wedin

Fink's dark and deep voice made its entrance in the fourth movement and presented an interesting contrast to the brilliance of the orchestra, suiting the Nietzschean reflections on the depth of the world. The oboe here was a little rigid, and presented at times a glissando and at times none when playing the well-known phrase that is central to the movement. Indecision of freedom of interpretation? The reading of that phrase has been a matter of debate ever since the glissando was introduced in Simon Rattle's recording of the symphony with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in 1998.

The bells of the fifth movement arrived with a minor lack of strength. However, it saw a great cooperation between the Adolf Fredrik's Boys Choir, the Ladies of the Royal Swedish Opera Chorus, the Soloist and the orchestra. A wonderful joint effort of nearly two hundred people.

The sixth and last movement arrived smoothly and without pause after the latter and closed the piece with incredibly mellow cellos. As the movement progressed, the orchestra merged into a unity of musicality and by the time the symphony ended, the collaboration was total.

An entirely suitable performance, albeit with some imbalances in tempo and in the quality of the solo instruments.