MAHLER’S epic Third Symphony is a musical marathon by any measure, demanding massive orchestral forces, offstage percussion, two choirs and a mezzo-soprano, to carry it through six movements.

Remaining the largest and longest work in the standard repertoire, it is small wonder it is rarely played. So when when Prague Symphony Orchestra premiered it at Sage Gateshead a sell-out audience was guaranteed.

What made it all the more special was the involvement of women of the Chorus of Royal Northern Sinfonia and a children’s chorus, comprising choristers from Newcastle Cathedral.

The first movement, symbolic of an awakening, opened with a rousing fanfare of eight horns, before Finnish conductor Pietari Inkinen set about laying out his stall with a meticulous deliberation.

Each layer of Mahler’s dense orchestration was picked out in sharp relief, as the music meandered through a varied rhythmic, harmonic and melodic terrain.

The highlight was a burnished trombone solo, before the full might of the orchestra was unleashed in an explosive conclusion.

The second movement, depicting flowers in a meadow, featured a menuet conveyed with an ineffable delicacy, while in the third movement the distant sound of a posthorn, played from high in the auditorium, was conveyed with notes of silky purity above shimmering strings.

Mezzo-soprano Ester Pavlů's account of Nietzsche’s Midnight Song was spellbinding; her voice effortlessly projecting the opening lines O Mensch with depth and passion.

The sombre mood was dispelled in the ensuing movement with the children’s chorus happily mimicking the peal of bells, while the woman’s chorus ecstatically praised the powers of redemption.

The adagio was lovingly drawn out by Inkinen, before a triumphant climax driven home by thudding beats from two sets of timpani. The audience leapt to its feet as one in a rare standing ovation.