Review: University of York Symphony Orchestra/Stringer, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, York, March 9

AN UNUSUAL programme linked five songs for baritone and piano with one of the longest symphonies in the repertory. The common denominator was the Mahlers, Gustav and Alma, husband and wife: unusual but ingenious, and welcomed by a full house at ‘the Lyons’.

Although a New Woman in the 1890s, Alma had been forced by Gustav to give up composing on their marriage. But he eventually encouraged her to publish these Five Songs in 1910, just after he had finished his giant Ninth Symphony.

George Clark brought even tone, good German and considerable poise to the songs, with Nicky Losseff his idiomatic accompanist. He was always alive to drama in the lyrics, even if his facial expressions remained relatively unvaried.

Mahler’s Ninth, which wanders between the keys of D and D flat, is an immense test of concentration for any orchestra. Its tonal restlessness also makes it an unsettling listen. I admired the ghostly evanescence that John Stringer conjured from his players before the first movement’s protracted peroration, where the principal horn worked wonders. His section were to prove the stars of the evening.

The large woodwind choir, initially raucous in the Ländler, later found the "leisurely" vein Mahler demanded. The prankish, angry variations of the Rondo Burleske ended in a delightful romp. Upper strings needed longer bowing at the Adagio’s start, but the closing pianissimo was succulently sustained, a miracle of control after such a marathon.

Martin Dreyer