The applause was surprisingly muted at the end of this evening’s concluding concert in Valery Gergiev’s series of Mahler Symphonies. Two calls plus a third, rather half-hearted. That probably signifies that I wasn’t the only listener at London’s Barbican Hall who felt tonight’s performances were good but not great.
The LSO played accurately, in an unusual seating arrangement with the first violins full left to the audience, second violins full right, violas and cellos centre-left and centre-right. Double basses full left. This arrangement suits this Mahler, where the second violins have a part pretty much as important as the first violins and no doubt it aids separation for the recording that was clearly being made.
The programme note had highlighted the possibility of alternative readings of Mahler’s Ninth apart from it being a result of the composer having received a diagnosis of an incurable heart condition. Maybe so, but what we heard seemed to be good on the climaxes but not making sense or structure of the passages of sustained drama. The second half of the first movement sagged particularly in this respect.
The Rondo Burleske started good and stompy, mutating to something almost in the character of a fugue gone mad.
But the performance did really come alive – paradoxically – in the final Adagio which led to a long hush before the audience broke into applause.
The Adagio from Mahler’s Tenth symphony, the only movement of which Mahler completed the orchestration before his death, similarly seemed to sag and not have good overall shape.
There are horn calls which can sound full of pathos, maybe Gergiev’s reading was specifically avoiding this cliché, but it wasn’t replacing it with anything else.
For me, the performance under Bernard Haitink which I heard in the Albert Hall at the Prom in July 2009 was more moving, more memorable, and threw more light on Mahler’s great work.
Any cycle of Mahler’s Symphonies is a triumph: we were treated to an individual performance of a particular reading and it’s as well to remember that what is offered for the record library is the culmination of many such performances.
The LSO were in fine form, practically note-perfect with some tremendous solos.
Mahler Symphony No 9
Mahler Symphony No 10 (Adagio)
Valery Gergiev conductor
London Symphony Orchestra
Barbican Hall, London