PROM 42: Mahler Symphony No 9, BBC Symphony Orchestra,
Sir Andrew Davis
+ Mozart Piano Concerto No 22, K482 (Emmanuel Ax). (MB)
This is the fourth Mahler Nine which London audiences have been able to hear this year, and if this performance is any yardstick they are getting better (which bodes well for the year's final Ninth, Rattle's with the LSO in October).
Andrew Davis' control over the vast spaces this symphony travels was superb. Both the outer movements had a sense of architecture that was impressive, and both were shaped in a singular arc. The first, with its shift of dynamics from pianissimo to forte beautifully captured, was a tour de force. The climaxes, for once, seemed exactly as they should: moments of apotheosis ushering in the inexorable path of death. If they seemed unfulfilled, this was precisely the effect needed. One of the failures of Svetlanov's February Mahler 9 was a stuttering, stop-go momentum which robbed great stretches of this movement of the fluidity it needs. Both the second and third movements were strongly characterised (and without Masur's agogic distortions). The close to the scherzo was demonic, with cymbals clashing like a wildly applauding audience.
The great adagio, steeped in a glorious swathe of colour, was less overwhelming than some I have heard. Davis almost stands back from the immense emotion of these pages, preferring instead to let the orchestra develop its own intensity. It was richly played, with the BBC strings passionate throughout, and brass and woodwind glittering like gold. A low bassoon was blackened, a rocking clarinet hauntingly emerged like a sobbing child. The harp glissandi were like mourners momentarily breaking into laughter. The great horn solos were beautifully played (although twice the first note was flat). Muted trumpets and trombones were as high pitched as sopranos. The sense of colour in this movement was simply irresistible and for large stretches moved a capacity house to complete stillness. The very final pages, which moved onwards from pp to pppp , were stunning and deeply moving. Davis held his hands, floating like angels, for what seemed an eternity.
Of all the Mahler Nines I have heard this year this is the one that, as an interpretation, stands head and shoulders above the rest. The BBC SO are not the New York Phil, however, but the playing, if at times untidy, had a passion and energy that was all-consuming. This was a performance that stood at the wings of greatness.
Beginning the concert was Mozart's Piano Concerto K482. This was refined, poised and aristocratic in equal measure. Ax brought muscularity and poetry to the solo part, Davis a delicacy to the orchestral playing. Ax played his own cadenzas (mobile 'phone in the first surely unintended). They were as elegant as one would expect.
An exceptional concert.
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