There are some conductors whose mere presence evokes a response from an orchestra, who inspire the musicians to give of their best through an aura which accompanies their smallest of gestures. Bernard Haitink is one such conductor. The cheers from the audience which greeted him before he had even conducted a note showed how highly anticipated this prom was by a packed Royal Albert Hall. Haitink did not disappoint. His was a mature, considered reading of Mahler's epic. It did not contain the youthful excitement or exuberance of some interpretations, although to me this did not matter. Instead it is a mark of the genius of Haitink as a musician that he was able to forego the ephemeral nature of some performances, but was able to create something more enduring and was able to make complete sense of Mahler's epic journey, culminating in the final slow sixth movement, which formed the perfect summation. Haitink's conducting was measured, the climaxes reserved and calculated, totally devoid of self indulgence. His gestures were small and meaningful, but engaging to the huge forces in front of him, coaxing out the subtle nuances from the music, breathing inexorable life into the symphony in a completely organic way, evoking an inspired response from an in form LSO.

Bernard Haitink and the LSO © BBC | Chris Christodoulou
Bernard Haitink and the LSO
© BBC | Chris Christodoulou

The brass section, in particular, was on form. The colossal opening movement began with the horn section resonating with warmth throughout the cavernous hall. However, the highlight were the solos by principal trombonist Dudley Bright. His tone was intensely lyrical at times and menacing at others, bringing a hollow starkness to Mahler's writing. There was also fine, measured playing from the trumpet section, who responded to Haitink's interpretation, bringing out the inner lyricism of much of the work and performing the larger moments with a reserved restraint. Another highlight was Nicholas Betts' spine-tingling off stage flugelhorn solo in the third movement.

In both the second and third movements, Mahler directs the orchestra not to hurry. Haitink perfectly captured a sense of space and often innocent naivety. The melodies in the carefree Tempo di Menuetto second movement effectively evoked the Austrian countryside with the LSO's woodwind section coming to the fore. The playful woodwind melodies were answered by a lush string sound, enveloping the hall in a rich sound, further enhanced by expressive violin solos from Carmine Lauri, the LSO's leader. Once again, the primal outbursts in these movements were controlled and not as disturbing as in many interpretations, the overwhelming feeling being one of innocence and lyricism.

Sarah Connolly © BBC | Chris Christodoulou
Sarah Connolly
© BBC | Chris Christodoulou
The fourth movement saw the introduction of Sarah Connolly, the mezzo-soprano soloist. Her delivery was direct and full of warmth. Connolly's tone was buttery and rich, responding to the lush bed of sound underpinning her from the orchestra. Nietzsche's solemn text also received an appropriate gravitas in approach, with the mezzo's interpretation serving as a contrast in mood to the subsequent addition of the choral voices in the fifth movement. The Tiffin Boys' Choir produced a direct and bright tone, in contrast to the rounder voices of the ladies of the LSO Chorus. Both choirs delivered the text without scores, thus aiding the projection of their sound, which rose impressively above the LSO. Their often bell-like sound, and positive message of love and redemption juxtaposed starkly with Connolly's emotive pleas.

This linked seemlessly and almost inperceptibly into the sublime final movement, which proceded with an air of almost resignation through to its conclusion. Throughout, the thousands of people packed into the Royal Albert Hall stood or sat transfixed, not moving, but instead transported by one of those rare moments of collective transcendence. Once more, Haitink allowed the music to proceed with an air of natural inevitability, allowing the complex emotions of the finale to intermingle, neither allowing the feelings of despair nor triumphalism to win through, but with each being slightly subdued and repressed. Once more, Haitink's maturity and experience which characterised this performance shone through. It was as though he was not there to pass judgement on the purpose of this Mahlerian epic, but merely to present it as it was with an air of submission and true humility and allow us to draw our own conclusions and to be alone with our own individual journies and emotions.