Two very different orchestras under two very different music directors playing two very different symphonies, though both by Mahler, dominated the penultimate week of this year's Proms.
In the second of them, Mahler's tragic Sixth Symphony in A minor, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra under the inspirational baton of Mariss Jansons, not only fulfilled but surpassed all that was expected of them. While Franz Welser-Möst's account of the pantheistic Third in D minor with the Cleveland Orchestra evidently so confounded the expectations of certain critical colleagues that they seemed quite unable to hear what was being offered instead.
No doubt it was Welser-Möst's refusal to love every detail to death in late Romantic repertoire that fuelled the press vendetta against him in his earlier London years. But then, it takes a classicist to reveal what a profoundly classical composer Mahler also was. Never before has the structure of the vast, apparently rhapsodic opening movement of the Third sounded so clear: one heard a double exposition, a development introducing a new idea after the classic precedent of Mendelssohn and Mozart, and a recapitulation, with scarcely a superfluous bar.
In the intermezzo-like second and third movements, the Clevelanders were allowed to play to their strengths. Never has Mahler's filigree detail sounded more sweetly tuned and affectionately turned; never, for that matter, has one heard the strings launch the great final slow movement with such a luminous hush. So what if some of the work's primeval vastness and weight was missed? In any case, it is of the essence of Mahler's multivalent genius that no single performance can encompass all.
An incidental virtue was to remind one of how open, clean, and even, at times, delicate, much of the scoring of the Third remains, whereas massive over- scoring is central to the strain and stress of the Sixth. For some, this is Mahler's greatest structure, but it is also his most conventional. All the traditional tropes of suffering, horror, exultation and fate are here. Where it overwhelms is by sheer excess, notably in that vast, possessed finale, with its three crushing hammer blows.
All this, and more, Jansons and the Concertgebouw proceeded to deliver with unsurpassable vividness, vigour and, not least loudness. The effectiveness of it all was enhanced by placing the Andante second and the Scherzo third - which always made better musical sense, whatever Mahler's alleged ditherings. However, like Mahler, Jansons elided the third hammer blow - doubtless having been too nearly touched by the finger of mortality himself.Reuse content