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Live Review: Prayer and Bath of Benediction – Mahler and Bernstein with Marin at the BSO (2009.04.05)

Mahler's Ninth -- a Dance of Life

Mahler's Ninth -- a Dance of Life

I thought I could walk away from three Sundays ago’s BSO performance of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony and wash it all away with a little leftover Dom Perignon down at Sotta Sopra.

But I couldn’t. The Ninth haunts me. I’m walking down the street on a Tuesday, and suddenly, the first movement swells in my ears once again…flooding my brain. The very sidewalk under my feet seems to transform into an immaterial wave of string-song — I lose my bearings.

To quell the swoons, I’ve picked up a prescription: Lenny Berstein’s recording, as well as Mahler protégé Otto Klemperer’s take. But here’s where Marin Alsop started me off…

We began Sunday with Lenny Bernstein’s Opening Prayer pumped out on the horns…the orchestra raises with the tamed din of its tuning up, made majestic by the underpinning of woodwinds. Softly, softly the violins and cellos carry the theme. The piano strikes, and the soprano rises from a seat in the right orchestra box. The mezzo, Sasha Cooke’s voice perfectly becalmed the crowd for Mahler’s Ninth ahead.

Or did she calm them too much? The Sunday crowd tends towards the sleepy, unless it comes to applause – which they’re eager to do after every movement – a most unfit reward in the face of the death-life meditations of Mahler.

Adante Comodo: A curious hollow pluck from the harp. The oboe floats, strings sway with grand swooping gestures ’til French horn and tympani bring us to a crisis of ocean swell, before the strings regain flight. Pummeling leads to a lush, sweet sweeping plain of sound. Violins sigh, cellos swoon, drawing long on dignity. Imagine a Japanese red maple, tall and proud, whose branches waver in an April wind. That’s the strings.

The horns’ reedy bleat brings us to the knees of solo drum sounding alone in harsh 1-2, 1-2 echos. The harp chimes uncertain times. The trumpet leads us the Crisis #2. The centre cannot hold…mere anarchy is loosed upon Marin’s players. Even the triangle wrangles like a lost boy in a moor on a dark night.

The cellos take the lead, like a pack of death’s head moths flapping ‘gainst window panes, before violins resume the cry.

All becomes positively Wagnerian on the backs of looming horns. Little scurries take over. The harp intones. Marin crouches low before cuing a big crash! Then come the church chimes. Out of the somber cue, a flute and piccolo fly like birds from a belfry, nesting near a pond. The tune turns Asian, full of echo, before sounding as one flute note alone, held for 4 seconds.

In Tempo eines gemächlichen Ländlers: This shocker comes across like a Scottsman’s brogue laid on thick over top of some Mozart. Lots of curtseys and Weisbachen froth from the glöcken. Things grow interesting when they turn a little more unkempt and whirly – like Edvard Munch’s “Dance of Life” – but with a touch more levity. The cymbals go pash-pash, before the woodwinds take a very Papapapapapa-gena stance, before running into a darker trance…again ending with the flute.

Rondo – Burleske: Horns call us to the ready for the stately and ferocious strings. Sitting in the lower orchestra, right before the stage, I’d have to say the pizzicato was a touch muddled (especially recalling some good strikes from the Cleveland Orchestra’s.) However, I sympathize – this is a 79 minute tour d’orchestre force. The strident fades into something more earnest and searching, like a bright moon popping out behind a cloud.

Adagio: Mahler’s tour of tonality drops down into D-flat Major for the finale. Marin begins with a deep breath, and the violins cry with unison. Sweetness undercuts sorrow at every measure. The contra-bassoon moans before we are dipped in a river of tones ringing in a new grandeur. Hearing this, you’ll forgive yourself every sin of the past month, drop every worry held.

Strings build up a massive, under-your-seat vibration. We plunge deeper and time comes unspun like a thread on a spool hurtled out to infinity.

Cellos usher into the denouement, with punctuated forays on the strings where spaces expand around us as much as the notes. We are quite alone in this cosmos, yet an unity sounds.

In the creep, creep quietude we are barely breathing. The violins come in for the close — handing us off to the violas (particularly shining) who end with two draws of the bow. We go gently into our goodnight.

This finale marks the final symphony of Mahler’s…his last of nine symphonies completed before death – just like Schubert, Bruckner, and sacred Beethoven before him.

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2 Responses to “Live Review: Prayer and Bath of Benediction – Mahler and Bernstein with Marin at the BSO (2009.04.05)”

  1. Lex O'Brien says:

    I loved this concert.
    I love what Sam Buker has written about it. Now, three weeks hence, I am transported back to its glory!
    I sincerely hope that other Aural States readers who aren’t normally classical music followers might chance to land on this page, bask in the glow of the shining prose herein, and be motivated to attend the BSO.
    Get thee to the Meyerhoff, kids, and support the best local band you could ever hope to have!

  2. E.K. says:

    79 minutes seated? Come see us Friday: 5 hours, standing, dodge drunken north county workers getting ready for the weekend.

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