Conductor: Andris Nelsons
Mahler: Symphony No. 6 in A Minor
After the two smaller-scale, kind of off-the-beaten-track concerts I had attended lately, last Friday night was more or less back to business as usual with a monumental classical symphony performed by a prestigious symphony orchestra at Carnegie Hall. Since the program ha no intermission, I even got the automated phone call reminding me to get there on time or else.
Mahler's Symphony No. 6 is certainly not one of his most popular ones, maybe because it has the particularity of being one of his densest and darkest works (It has not be called "The Tragic" for no reason) despite the fact of having been written during one of the happiest times of his life. Go figure. On top of the promise of a memorable journey into a grand composition, this concert was also the perfect opportunity to enjoy the illustrious Boston Symphony Orchestra and check out its new music director and conductor Andris Nelsons. Filling in James Levine's shoes has to be a tough job, but somebody's got to do it.
On Friday night, in a packed Stern Auditorium, the ominous march implacably opened the way to roughly 90 minutes of a remarkably powerful and highly detailed performance, which significantly benefited from the unbreakable unity of the entire orchestra and the unwavering conducting of indefatigable Andris Nelsons.
There is typically a lot going on in Mahler's symphonies, and the sixth is no different. The first movement was majestic, complex and inexorably driven. More importantly even, the right pace was picked from the very beginning, fast enough for the momentum to keep going and slow enough for telling details to clearly emerge.
The order of the second and third movements has been hotly debated ever since Mahler himself decided to switch from "Scherzo-Andante" to "Andante-Scherzo" during a rehearsal before the premiere. On Friday, we got back to the original order, which resulted in a seamless transition ‒ once the applause had subsided ‒ from the expansive Allegro to the agitated Scherzo, and later a more drastic contrast between the warm Andante and the apocalyptic Finale.
Few composers know how to stir a spontaneous emotional response without falling into gooey schmaltz, but Mahler had the absolute knack to come up with stunningly beautiful slow movements seemingly without any fuss. The Andante of his Symphony No. 6 happens to be one of them, and it may very well be the one that will be most vividly remembered from Friday night's concert.
After such an elating interlude, the unyielding tragedy of the Finale resounded all the more loud and clear, like a cruel fate that could not be stopped and kept on resolutely charging ahead to the very end. And then a well-deserved, roof-raising ovation took over for a very long time.