One wonders what was going on in Nicholas Collon's mind as he stepped onto the CBSO podium for his third visit this season. Probably he had been in the frame for the succession to Andris Nelsons as the orchestra's principal conductor, but if he actually felt any disappointment at being passed over in favour of Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla, it certainly didn't show in this concert. Pity that the listeners to this BBC Radio 3 relay couldn't witness the elegant modesty of Collon's conducting.
The shrewdly-planned programme all pointed towards the concluding colossus, Mahler's Symphony no. 10, completed (there is no other word, despite the protestations of David Matthews' absorbing and lengthy programme-note) by Deryck Cooke.
We began with the evanescent, gestural sound-world of Webern's Six Pieces, here given in their 1920 chamber reduction, perfectly poised under Collon, and with subtle homages to Mahler -- and more obvious ones, such as the combination of bass-drum and switch.
Brahms' early Four Songs for women's voices, two horns and harp, full of the Romantic nature-imagery which Mahler was soon so readily to encompass, were beautifully delivered by the innocently-timbred CBSO Youth Chorus (expertly trained by Julian Wilkins), with confident collaboration from the instrumentalists. One question: do we really have to have chaperones actually sitting onstage alongside these mature young ladies?
And so to the Mahler, a work which perhaps would never have been written had the dying composer not realised his wife was having an affair with the next creative artist in her collection. It is maudlin, self-repeating from previous works, but also has a visionary quality which begs the listener's forgiveness.
Collon allowed the music to make all its own points, as Mahler would have intended. He drew a wondrously rich string tone, summoned the brass to awesomely terrifying outbursts, and presided over a myriad of vital instrumental solos.
Chief among these must come the many contributions of concertmaster Zoe Beyers, and, too, the lengthy flute solo in the finale from Marie-Christine Zupancic. We have heard all such things earlier in Mahler's authentic symphonic output, but this does not detract from how valid they sounded within this context.