The San Francisco Symphony began a mini Mahler festival tonight with a performance of the composer's 9th Symphony. It's been six and half years since MTT and the orchestra last performed this and in that time I've absorbed a lot more Wagner than I had in 2004. I heard him everywhere in the first and fourth movements to an extent I found distracting as it gradually became a game of "now is that quoting Tristan or ?" or "darn, was that horn the to summon to Hundig's henchmen or the Gibiching chrous? Why can't I remember this?" "Ah, definitely the same chords as Liebestod."
The first movement, labeled "Adante comodo" is an epic of variations, thrilling in their scope and seemingly endless in their variety. Michael Tilson Thomas led the immense orchestra with finesse though I thought I heard a flubbed horn and percussion moment. The incredibly long movement lasted for more than half an hour (the entire work runs slight more than 90 minutes, performed without intermission).
The second movement "In the tempo of a comfortable landler" (doesn't that sound like a 60's era car commercial jingle?) is comprised of a landler- a dance to be performed "leisurely, clumsy, heavy-footed, coarse (Mahler's adjectives according to the program notes) bookending a waltz. The orchestra kept the rhythms lively throughout, though I never heard coarseness nor clumsiness. I have to admit it took me a long time to come to understand Mahler and this Rondo burleske is an example of why. To my ears it doesn't fit in with the rest of the work. It's just there, and I always ask myself why whenever I hear it. Having said that, I'm not the typical Mahler fan- it was only after hearing the 7th Symphony, the one which supposedly makes little sense, that I understood what he was doing.
The fourth movement, despite what the program notes claim, is to my ears the heart of the work. An incredibly long adagio that disintegrates in stages from a monument of expansive beauty into dust. Like the first movement, it contains an almost unbelievable amount of variations within it, exquisitely played by the string and wind sections.
It's an exhausting yet cathartic ending, made all the more so because for some reason Davies was sweltering tonight. The Symphony repeats the program Friday night before moving on to the Resurrection (2nd) symphony Saturday and Sunday. Next week there will be three performances of the 6th Symphony. There is probably no other orchestra as committed to this composer as the SFS is right now so get a ticket if there are any left- tonight's performance was packed.
Malia- always nice to see you. Soon!