Proms; Beethoven, Mahler: BBC NOW / Wigglesworth Royal Albert Hall, London / Radio 3

The Mahler boom reached its peak in the 1970s and 1980s. More recently, grumblings have been heard from the Sir Herbert Gussets of the musical world: Mahler is overrated, sickly, self-intoxicated, interminable etc. Well, perhaps the excesses of the Mahler cult needed a little corrective therapy, and maybe the symphonies aren't all as sublime as the hard-core Mahlerians have claimed. But let anyone criticise Das Lied von der Erde in my hearing and it will be pistols at dawn - especially while memories of Wednesday's Proms performance are still fresh.

The British conductor Mark Wigglesworth has made a speciality of Mahler, with striking results. Young as he is, his understanding of this uniquely challenging "Song-Symphony" is as thorough as that of any other living conductor. But understanding is one thing - what matters in concert is the ability to communicate that understanding (and love) to the orchestra and, through them, to the audience. Listening to the playing of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, one would guess that the piece had been rehearsed in fine detail. Except that too much rehearsal can drain the life from a performance before it has even happened, and this was an exceptionally "live" performance. The effect on the capacity Albert Hall audience could be gauged, not so much from the thunderous applause at the end, but from the absolute silence throughout the auditorium during the many still, quiet passages in the long final movement, "The Farewell". As a flute slowly, almost absently traced a solo over a barely audible low bass note, there were no coughs, no creaking seats. Even the occupants of the corporate boxes behaved themselves.

Crowning the experience were two splendid soloists. The tenor Anthony Rolfe Johnson may have been vocally more in character as the cheerfully abandoned "Drunkard in Spring" than as the wild, height-storming oblivion- seeker in "The Drinking Song of the Earth's Misery" but to hear him in the latter movement's refrain, "Dark is life... is death", was to know what resignation is. From her first entry, it was clear that the mezzo-soprano Waltraud Meier was going to be vocally strong and beautiful enough, but the performance quickly deepened in expression. The sadness of "The Lonely One in Autumn" lingered through the next three lighter songs, and welled up again in the finale, only to be transfigured in the closing pages. Critics may debase words like "ecstatic" by using them too glibly, but there's no other way of describing Meier's fading "Ewig... ewig... ("Eternally... eternally...") at the end, supported and finally absorbed by the spacious, soft orchestral sound.

If Wigglesworth's Beethoven Pastoral Symphony doesn't live nearly so long in the memory, that won't be because it wasn't intelligent, well- paced and imaginative - just that it was simply good, not excellent. The TV cameras, who left before the Mahler, clearly came to the wrong half of the concert. Or did they? As Beethoven romantically depicted his "Awakening of Happy Feelings on Arriving in the Country" (first movement), their creaks and thuds were a pointed reminder of the 20th century, no longer the global village, but the global city. In the end, it was Mahler, not Beethoven, who provided the escape route.

This concert is repeated on BBC Radio 3 at 2pm today Stephen Johnson

Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Arts and Entertainment
U2's Songs of Innocence album sleeve

tvU2’s latest record has been accused of promoting sex between men

Arts and Entertainment
Alison Steadman in Inside No.9
tvReview: Alison Steadman stars in Inside No.9's brilliant series finale Spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk