Conductor: Semyon Bychkov
Detlev Glanert: Theatrum bestiarum, Songs and Dances for Large Orchestra
Mahler: Symphony No. 5 in C-sharp Minor
After indulging in a glorious Resurrection by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in their Amsterdam home back in September, I simply had to try to relive the magical experience last Wednesday night in New York's Carnegie Hall, where they were appearing under the baton of Semyon Bychkov for Mahler's sprawling Symphony No. 5, which could be succinctly described as the composer's first complete mature work. After all, one can never get too much Mahler, especially when it is performed by such subject matter experts.
And just to add a bit of novelty to the program, the main attraction would be preceded by the New York premiere of Theatrum bestiarum by Detlev Glanert, a tone poem partly inspired by the composer's own opera Caligula, and more generally by Mahler and Shostakovitch. One more reason to go out in that miserable rainy evening at the end of that miserable rainy day.
Detlev Glanert's Theatrum bestiarum owes its fancy title to the "zoo of human beings" it describes, and sure enough, on Wednesday night the raucous menagerie came out as an intriguing combination of dark undertones, grotesque images and captivating colors. Boldly opening with a mighty 25-note chord and consisting of a single 20-minute movement, the composition burst with beguiling music that not only never stopped flowing, but also kept the audience riveted with its surprisingly wide range of often surreal, always imaginative sounds.
We moved on to another somber and strangely hypnotic place after the intermission when the first notes of Mahler's Symphony No. 5 assertively filled the Stern auditorium. Gorgeously dark and starkly foreboding, the funeral march unfolded with gravity and grandeur thanks to a tightly unified orchestra that knew exactly where it was going. A pause was introduced before the Allegro, but even this unexpected break did not kill the momentum, and the music quickly resumed with plenty of vigor and wilderness.
The expansive Scherzo exploded with chaotic energy and unrestrained exuberance before the achingly beautiful Adagietto, Mahler's stunning love letter to his young wife Alma, magnificently soared with poignant tenderness. Love had finally conquered all, and the feat was celebrated with the de rigueur fireworks all the way to the breathless, life-affirming grand finale.
The journey had been intensely dramatic without being sentimental, the orchestra had been technically flawless and emotionally involved, Semyon Bychkov had remained in full control but cleverly unobtrusive, and the composition remains one of the repertoire's timeless masterpieces.
Even the rain that was still relentlessly falling as we were exiting did not managed to dampen our elevated spirits. The Concertgebouw and Mahler had ruled the night.