Feelings of nostalgia are hard to ignore in the first of three Bamberg Symphony Orchestra concerts recorded for the 50th Hong Kong Arts Festival. Czech composer Bedrich Smetana recalled the former glory and majesty of The High Castle in Prague early on in his vivid musical depiction of Ma vlast (My Country), and this reviewer can’t help but feel a similar sentiment: a yearning for the former glory and excitement of live concerts, with unmasked orchestras and conductors. All three concerts in a programme titled “Life, Death and Tradition” are available as free online streams. They were filmed in the Joseph Keilberth Hall, the home turf of the German orchestra, and under the baton of the Czech conductor Jakub Hrusa. In its rendition of Smetana’s Ma Vlast, the orchestra’s trademark precision is soon evident, the string playing in The High Castle exciting and the interjections of the brass to depict the castle’s collapse laser sharp and its players evoking pure terror in their portrayal of the female warrior in Sarka, the third of Smetana’s six symphonic poems . One would be hard pressed to find a more evocative and finely contoured reading of Smetana’s much loved Vltava (The Moldau), the solo woodwinds offering plenty of rustic merriment. This Má vlast warrants multiple hearings. In the second concert, the Sacrifice & Concluding Hallelujah from French composer Olivier Messiaen’s Book of the Holy Sacrament is highly effective as a prelude to Austrian and fellow Catholic Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No 9 . German organist Christian Schmitt bathes happily in Messiaen’s rich sonic language, his refined solo pedalling and keyboard skills throughout the registers culminating in a captivating Toccata. A final chordal plunge sets the scene for Hrusa’s take on Bruckner’s most haunting work. That the strings generate so much excitement from their use of tremolo , a necessity when performing Bruckner symphonies, is a blessing, and Hrusa uses it to great effect in building the majestic three-part opening movement. Like giant pillars of homogeneous sound, the woodwind and brass climaxes were rock solid. Minor flaws in intonation by the violins in their highest register are fleeting distractions in the second movement’s Trio, but they redeem themselves with swirling, swelling pizzicato playing in a power-charged performance of the Scherzo. Hrusa structures Bruckner’s final Adagio journey with insight, allowing the orchestra to play expansively and cherish the ethereality of the final fading bars. The Bamberg orchestra perform another 9th symphony, that of Gustav Mahler, in the third concert, and Hrůša pulls out all the emotional stops in this reading . The brass playing is exceptional throughout – from the brilliantly muted horns and trumpets to the powerful announcement by trombones and tubas of the first movement’s syncopated heartbeat motif, played as Mahler instructed, “with greatest force”. The concertmaster’s violin work is a joy both in his polyphonic interplay with wind soloists in the imitation of bird calls and in subsequent solo passages. The rustic Ländler – a dance often seen in Mahler’s works – is suitably peasant-like in its coarseness, then wonderfully distorted and transfigured throughout the orchestra as it turns bitter and sarcastic. As the piece develops into a barely unrecognisable waltz, the players relish the chromaticism and edgy, frenetic rhythms. The same energy marks the following Rondo-Burleske section , but the otherwise tight ensemble stray here on occasion. Mahler’s final Adagio, not unlike Bruckner’s, is heart-wrenchingly beautiful and prayer-like in the hands of the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra. The three concerts in “Life, Death and Tradition” by the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra were recorded in Bamberg’s Joseph Keilberth Hall for the Hong Kong Arts Festival. They can be viewed free of charge on the festival website until April 30.