The next-to-last concert of my National SO season ticket took place
last Thursday when the orchestra performed Mahler 9 at the Kennedy Center.
It was a typically excellent performance soundwise and performance-wise,
but I thought there was a little fire missing, especially in the first
movement. Intensity ratcheted up movement by movment, though. The
finale was exquisite, and turned what might have been a middling-to-fine
performance into an excellent one. I consider this to have been another
triumph for Slatkin's ongoing cycle. The Washington Post (registration
required) was slightly less enthusiastic:
Slatkin started the evening with what he does best, a 20-minute lecture,
with orchestral excerpts, on what Mahler was trying to express and on
the various quotations in the 9th. Among the works contrasted and
compared with the 9th were parts of Mahler symphonies Nos. 1, 2, 3, 5,
6, and Das Lied, Bruckner 7 and 9, and Haydn's Military symphony.
Surprisingly, he did not touch on the prominent Kindertotenlieder quotation
near the end of the finale. Three -- count 'em, three -- cell phones
went off during the talk, and Slatkin was moved to say, "Telephone" from
the podium. Maybe I should have been glad for the interruptions, as
there were no phones to be heard during the symphony. Had there been,
listers would have been reading about me in the paper the next day.
Points at random: Much to my surprise, Slatkin took a leisurely pace
through the first movement and especially the finale. I didn't time
the finale but my wife maintains it went over 30 minutes, which, in my
experience, is way different from what this speed demon typically does.
The NSO muted brass were really prominent, and I had the impression that
every bizarre sound effect that Mahler scored was faithfully performed.
The entry of the first waltz theme in II was taken briskly; no elephantine
entry here. It bears repeating, the finale was breathtaking. Slatkin
was almost Bernsteinian at the end -- in tempo, not in podium choreography
-- and the NSO strings faded into nothingness just as they were supposed
to. And surprise, the KC audience waited the long time until Slatkin
put his hands down before applauding.
And yet, I have to say the Colorado MahlerFest performance last January
was more moving. This is maybe because we were all pulling for the CMFO
to bring off this difficult symphony. With the NSO more likely to perform
an incident-free 9th, there wasn't that feeling of danger; when the CMFO
passed all the performance crises, the feeling of having achieved a real
accomplishment was palpable. Last night's performance was exciting, but
were the NSO members investing everything in it that the CMFO members
The next installment of my season ticket takes place May 5 when
Rostropovich guest-conducts the NSO in an all-Tchaikovsky program:
Nutcracker Suite, the D major Violin Concerto (Mayu Kishima), and
Symphony No. 5.