As if it wasn’t enough to open a new London Philharmonic season with a simply tremendous performance of Mahler's 3rd Symphony, Vladimir Jurowski could not resist adding a preface. And the music he chose not only reminded us of the intriguing connection with Mahler's younger contemporary, Alexander Zemlinsky, in that both men loved the same woman, Alma Schindler, it also looked at life, love, and destiny from an obliquely different perspective.
Zemlinsky's Six Maeterlinck Songs – sung here with resounding commitment by Petra Lang – inhabit that twilit hinterland between sleeping and waking, and with their surreal evocations of mysterious castles, lonely virginal maidens (cue wheezing harmonium), and the pull of illicit love they are the flip side of Mahler's pantheistic vision – which is always rooted in the tangible reality of his surroundings.
To be honest, there was too much music here for a single concert: Mahler's longest and surely most beautiful symphony is in itself such an odyssey that it must stand alone, free of all immediate associations, like the great original, indeed flabbergasting, canvas it is. But, that said, the magnificence of Jurowski's reading and the LPO's playing soon turned the Zemlinsky into a faded footnote. There is nothing in music quite as emphatically auspicious as the summons of eight unison horns that opens the symphony – but in the ensuing chorale, sounded from the very depths of orchestral sonority, Jurowski and his players plunged us into a winter of discontent so profoundly expectant that even the inveterate coughers were silenced.
Mark Templeton’s doleful trombone orations conveyed their own craggy beauty while the advance of the summery marching bands, four piccolos leading from the front, arrived at their Charles Ivesian moment with chaotic jubilation, almost but not quite at the level of euphoria achieved by Jurowski's stunning presto at the close of the movement.
Jurowski has such an instinctive feeling for Mahler’s tempo-rubato and, more importantly, how best to convey that to his players so it sounds, as it did here, so natural and unaffected. But he also has an inbred sense of Mahler’s theatre and the shifting perspective of the offstage posthorn solos (beautifully played by Paul Beniston) was one such manifestation.
A small black mark for not observing the attacca into the finale but this the most inspirational of all Mahler's adagios achieved magnificent ascendancy and I shall long remember the moment of spiritual transformation where the solo flute glimmered at the threshold of some new horizon. As I say, simply tremendous.