A conductor’s withdrawal because of illness ‘at very short notice’ can be calamitous even when the programme does not include a work lasting up to 90 minutes.
But there was no calamity here, even in Mahler’s ninth symphony – thanks to Romanian-born replacement Ion Marin.
He achieved contrasts in character without over-dramatising or over-sentimentalising various sections through fussy tempo changes.
And he was helped by the players’ ability to sharpen Mahler’s expressive contrasts, the horns perhaps most strikingly of all from the very start.
The BSO strings, too, were not only rock-solid but achingly, breathtakingly beautiful in the symphony’s extraordinary final fade into an oblivion that somehow sounded more like heaven than hell.
German pianist Gerhard Oppitz, playing Mozart’s Concerto No 24, might have been upstaged by so massive a work, but his trump card was a combination of stylistic purity with a natural generosity of expression.
Nothing in the concert was finer than the slow movement, where he achieved rhythmic precision while maintaining a sense of improvisation - and found a matchless rapport with the BSO’s supreme wind choir.