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Mahler: Valery Gergiev (conductor), London Symphony Orchestra, Avery Fisher Hall, New York City, 27.2.2011 (BH)


Mahler: “Adagio” from Symphony No. 10 in F-sharp minor (1910)

Mahler: Symphony No. 9 in D major (1908-09)


To conclude his two-part Mahler cycle (which began last fall with the Mariinsky Orchestra at Carnegie Hall), Valery Gergiev led the London Symphony Orchestra at Avery Fisher Hall in a wrenching Mahler Ninth Symphony, preceded by a similarly piercing Adagio from the Tenth. The Adagio – one of the most famous of all torsos – began with the haunting expertise of the ensemble’s violas, but as the movement progressed, it became clear that the entire orchestra was having a stellar day. From the firm, polished trumpets and horns, to the sparkling harp and percussion, there was never a moment when the concentrated spell was broken.


In the Ninth, Gergiev began relatively swiftly, forestalling any thoughts of death until much later. The many exposed passages for the horns were so beautiful that they set one’s mind at ease, marveling at the players’ seeming effortlessness – not an easy task on this particular instrument. In the second movement ländler (undeterred by a coughing interlude just before), Gergiev again opted for a more flowing, unsentimental tempo, with more emphasis on the horizontal line. Full of life, the sound was occasionally shrill (in a good way), although small glimmers of the grimaces to come made their appearance, in an accelerating circus of a waltz.


A bat-out-of-hell trumpet announced the convulsive Rondo – raucous, shrieking, and protesting, still fighting, although despair was starting to take root. Flashbacks of the previous movements helped set in motion a feeling of panic that the end was drawing closer and closer. Gergiev ended with a violent flourish that seemed to hang in the air, as if the sound had slapped the audience into silence. The LSO violins opened gloriously, leading to a throaty, even groaning theme (literally, with Gergiev vocalizing a bit). The eloquence of the strings only increased, as further sad reminiscences of the symphony’s earlier episodes appeared, and then Gergiev let the final pages slowly come to rest. The noiseless audience at the end made me a bit sad myself, that I had missed most of the concerts in his series.


Bruce Hodges

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