CLASSICAL: Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra / Mariss Jansons; Usher Hall, Edinburgh

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The Independent Culture
The popularity of Mahler's music has had a number of effects. Of course, it is good to have many fine recordings of the symphonies and to find the name of the great Jewish master on so many concert programmes. But it is also worrying. Mahler was an ironist with many levels of meaning. Almost nothing in his music is single-voiced; folk tunes are intoned with affection, but also with a sidelong grin; massive symphonic movements are built out of ragged shreds of melody and trivial memories of the parade ground and the hunting field.

Inevitably, Mariss Jansons and the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, playing the "Resurrection" Symphony as the closing gesture of this year's Edinburgh Festival, were going to aim at monumentality. After all, the composer wrote a storyline for the work in which he envisaged a funeral celebration, flashbacks to the joys of life, and a vision of resurrection.

But he also said that he originally planned the first and second movements as unconnected pieces; and it seems clear that the inclusion of the song "Urlicht" was an afterthought (though it is quoted in the Finale). You never know where you are with Mahler.

The Oslo Philharmonic are the right orchestra, however, for a single- voiced performance of this colossus. The strings are muscular rather than sonorous (the first movement was attacked with a resounding crunch of bows at the heel), the brass are mellow and songful, and there are superb wind soloists. Jansons had them playing not only with titanic breadth, but also with a mysterious veiled pianissimo and a kind of bashful hesitancy, his tempi ranging from a steady and stealthy tread to a furious impetuosity.

The Edinburgh Festival Chorus, too, you would think, are the right choir for this sort of thing. However, while it was visually effective to have them seated for the first part of their valediction, it did nothing for their focus and intonation; they became themselves only after they stood.

Michele Crider was an earnest soprano soloist, but the mezzo, Markella Hatziano, who had the terrible responsibility of "Urlicht" on her plate, was totally fazed by the greatness of the occasion. Unable, through panic, to sustain anything without wobbles, she pumped out the slow, level melody in separate notes; there was never any kind of colour in the tone. You felt for her.

Jansons's scrupulous phrasing and marking of every detail always stopped short of exaggeration. Woodwind were ordered not to shriek, the trumpet in the third movement not to sound cheap, the strings not to stress their written glissandi. This made the insalubrious little landler tune sound merely graceful and genteel (though there was, inevitably, a bit of humour in the pizzicato reprise) and turned St Anthony's sermon to the fishes (the song on which the third movement is based) into a quicksilver scherzo, its absurdity quite lost. There should always be a hint of corruption in Mahler; but this kind of institutionalised Mahler has all the ambiguity of a public building. Raymond Monelle