It's hard to believe it's been ten years since the last performances of Mahler's 6th in Davies. I attended one of those concerts, but like many things that have happened in the past ten years, I don't remember it all that vividly anymore. The program notes and blurb on the Symphony's website play up the darker, more angst-ridden elements of this work, with program notes author Michael Steinberg using phrases like "final, brutal tragic gesture" and "a beatific moment; this is its inverse, music of enveloping terror."
I don't think so.
Of course it's not "Jupiter" or anything like that, but I didn't find it to be, at least in last night's superbly played performance, anywhere close to reaching into the dark corners of the composer's mind in an attempt to express things of which we shouldn't speak. Rather, with its brisk, almost rollicking tempos of the outer movements, I heard a triumph of spirit constantly rising from swirls of disorder that came into crystal clear focus while MTT brought out one gorgeously delineated variation after another.
There's also mention in the program notes that there used to be some controversy over which of the middle movements should be played first and in the past twenty-five years consensus has formed to make the scherzo the second movement. I can't see how it could possibly have made sense any other way.
The adante was gorgeous, the cowbells suddenly appearing out nowhere like pastoral ghosts. This was Isabella's favorite part and understandably so. The work of the horns during this movement, especially the trombones, featured some of the finest playing I've ever heard from them.
The finale, as it is in the 9th, is the true heart of the work. Utilizing strong percussive marches like in the first movement, but this time without the relentless militarism, it propels itself forward not to some grim, funereal conclusion, but to the ultimate question, "What comes next?" The answer to which is an abrupt silence- like we have arrived at the precipice and must either come to a full stop or leap. The choice is ours, but we must make it in our own silence, because really- who knows what follows?
Beforehand, I accompanied Isabella as she finally got her wish to go to Absinthe, which as usual was a fine choice. Afterward, we went to the Grove, which I was pleased to find is open until 11:00 and thus the perfect place for some tea and conversation post-performance.
The Symphony will perform the 6th again tonight and Saturday, and here's a link to the SF Symphony's brilliant recording of the piece.