The RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra live at the National Concert Hall, 16th October 2015.

The RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra continue their season’s focus on Mahler with a performance of his Symphony no. 2, along with the RTÉ Philharmonic Choir and soloists Patricia Bardon and Máire Flavin. That the concert is sold-out days in advance attests to Mahler’s popularity among concert-goers, and should not come as a surprise to many. At just under 90 minutes performance time, the symphony sits alone in tonight’s orchestral programme; there is, however, an additional item on the programme for those who linger after the end of the symphony, and that the RTÉ ConTempo Quartet performing Zemlinsky’s String Quartet no. 3.

Beginning with the RTÉ ConTempo Quartet’s performance, it is quite obviously a difficult slot for such a work to succeed. Included in the National Symphony Orchestra’s programme for this season under the title ‘Mahler in Vienna’, performances of Mahler symphonies are accompanied by chamber works by ‘composers who fell under Mahler’s spell during the time he lived and worked in turn of the century Vienna’. Needless to say, after the enormous, cathartic work that is Mahler 2, any chamber work would struggle to compare, let alone Zemlinsky’s tongue-in-cheek commentary on Viennese composition in 1924. Nevertheless, for many it may provide a withering antidote to the overblown symphony, and the ConTempo Quartet are most excellent in its performance. Adrian Mantu is just captivating in full flow.

Returning to the main event, Alan Buribayev begins the epic work that is Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’ Symphony with real intensity. The orchestra have the piece well prepared, and technically they are on top of each musical challenge presented to them. In a work of such grandeur, the expanded horn section range from dramatic to lyrical with impressive ease. The entry of mezzo-soprano Patricia Bardon in the fourth movement is a breath-taking moment, matched only by the beauty of soprano Máire Flavin’s singing in the final movement. The RTE Philharmonic Choir join for the finale and have many nice moments, although a few protruding consonants and individual male voices are noticeable also.

Buribayev leads his forces to the work’s final section, and with the combined effort of orchestra, choir, soloists, organ, deafening percussion and offstage brass, we are led to two perfect cadences of a scale rarely experienced in Ireland. The audience deliver a prolonged applause (particularly for the exceptional solo singers), but the large crowd will have to wait until February before the RTE National Symphony Orchestra bring Mahler to the National Concert Hall again. Here’s hoping for another sell-out!


Gustav Mahler: Symphony no. 2, ‘Resurrection’

Alexander Zemlinsky: String Quartet no. 3, op. 19