Separated by nearly a century, Weber and Mahler provided striking contrast on Wednesday evening at the Lighthouse, Poole; beguiling lyricism from one and feverish, tumultuous extremes from the other. The invigorating partnership between the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and their guest conductor Daniele Rustioni (recently appointed Principal Conductor of the Opéra National de Lyon) sparked a red-blooded account of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony and a wonderfully polished rendering of Weber’s Clarinet Concerto no. 1 in F minor. Centre-stage for this attractive work was principal clarinettist of the Vienna Philharmonic, Daniel Ottensamer.

Daniele Rustioni © Cofano
Daniele Rustioni
© Cofano

Weber produced two concertos for the clarinet (and a concertino) in 1811 and intended them for the Munich clarinettist Heinrich Baermann. All three works have entered the repertoire and, with this handsome performance, it is not hard to hear why the First is so popular. From the opening bars, the BSO (under guest leader Mark Derudder) brought a wonderfully hushed, ink-still-wet clarity, as if imparting some hidden secret. Add to this dewy surface the liquid gold of Ottensamer’s clarinet and we had absolute perfection. Ottensamer began phrases with the softest murmurings, caressing and developing them with a musicality that combined an effortless technique with searching intelligence. He was incapable of making an ugly sound – high notes in the clouds had the same beauty of tone as those in the chalumeau register.

The central Adagio also found Ottensamer in poetic mode. More of an extended aria, this movement brought to the fore a magical rapport from the orchestra. Perfectly-judged balance and ensemble was nowhere better heard than in the imaginatively-scored passage for solo clarinet and three horns – its arresting wind sonorities brought rapt silence from a spell-bound audience. If the first two movements emphasised the clarinet’s lyrical properties, then the witty Rondo; finale placed agility centre-stage. Little wonder at the close of this superb performance Ottensamer was given a thundering ovation. Returning for an encore, he produced more honeyed tones in an improvisation that, once again, made clear his ability to draw fresh colours from his instrument.

And so to Mahler’s Fifth, given a performance that underlined its emotional agitation and boundless energy. In the opening movement, Rustioni’s forthright pace enhanced its tortured romanticism and reminded me of Edvard Munch’s The Scream. At times the pace felt too frenetic, more a cry for help than a funeral march. But the whole was set in motion confidently enough by Chris Avison’s trumpet fanfare. The second movement (following on from the first with barely a pause) erupted with plenty of vehemence and raised horns made their presence felt. From this despair cellos brought some consolation, their duet with the timpanist providing additional relief.

It was in the central Scherzo (with honours for Nicholas Fleury’s horn solo) that Rustioni seemed to convey most successfully Mahler’s intentions in a reading that underlined its doom and exuberance. He conjured forest elves, peasant dancing and ghostly spirits; waltz figures alarmed and sparkled, emotional worlds effortlessly controlled with a seemingly limitless range of well-judged tempi.

The Adagietto can sound more like an elegy than an evocation of love and here, at ten minutes, there was just enough tenderness to suggest the inspiration for this penultimate movement may have been the composer’s young wife Alma. Mahler scholar Deryck Cooke once described this movement as a “haven of recuperation from life’s turmoil”. Interpretations aside, Rustioni drew glowing string playing from his forces.

In the Rondo finale, there was much to celebrate, and the Bournemouth players seemed to share Mahler’s sense of jubilation. However, jubilation seemed to get the better of Rustioni who seemed to drive through climaxes, without applying the break and thus reducing any emotional impact. A pity, since in every other respect Rustioni’s Mahler was outstanding.