Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center – First Tier Center (Seat BB16, $59).
Symphony No. 9 (1908-1910) by Mahler (1860-1911).
I have always enjoyed Maazel conducting the Mahler symphonies, so I was looking forward to tonight's concert. Mahler was rather superstitious about the 9th symphony being many composers' last (Beethoven, Schubert and Dvorak). Indeed it was completed a year before he died of a heart bacterial infection and Mahler never got to listen to it performed. He left behind some sketches for a tenth symphony, though. It is very long at an advertised 79 minutes; in reality it was even longer at close to 90 minutes altogether.
It is difficult to characterize this symphony. Despite its length, it is not as complex as some of Mahler's other symphonies. Orchestration is simple by modern standards, there are no unusual instruments, although he did employ the tam-tam, snare drum, chimes, and two sets of timpani. The second timpani player also doubled as a base drum player.
Interestingly, Mahler scored one harp for the orchestra but tonight's performance followed Bruno Walter's score which divided the the part between two harps. The division was clearly uneven as the second harp doesn't have much to do. Anyway, some rather haunting tones are generated by the harps during the first and fourth movements.
The first movement (Andante comodo) is the longest at about 35 minutes. I like to describe Mahler's symphonies as wandering from scene to scene, and the 9th is like that also. The movement's tempo is slow, which is not common for a first movement. The second and third movements are each about 15 minutes. The second (In the tempo of a comfortable landler, somewhat clumsy and very coarse, what a tempo marking) is rather light-hearted, and I didn't hear much coarseness. The third movement (Rondo: Burleske (Allegro assai, very insolent)) is on the mischievous and giddy side, and Maazel's conducting reflected the mood with various motions of his arms and twist of his body. The last movement (Adagio (Very slow, and even holding back)) reminds me of one of Apostle Paul's epistles. He was only half-done when he said “finally”. Similar, the music went on for another 5 to 10 minutes after I thought it had come to an end. The ending was a bit much, with the same motif repeated many times.
The audience gave Maazel a hearty applause after the performance. The gentleman next to me clearly enjoyed the performance. I think there were four curtain calls. This is our last New York Philharmonic concert for the season, and I believe the orchestra has another one to go (“Tosca in Concert”). Next season will be Maazel's last with the New York Philharmonic, perhaps there is a nostalgic element to the reaction? In any case, I am impressed with his level of energy.
While I enjoyed this concert, and Maazel is dependable when it comes to Mahler, I thought it could have been better. This may be the music, or Maazel's conducting; I don't know the music well enough to tell.
The New York Times review uncharacteristically is all praise for Maazel's performance.