Monday, May 23, 2011


The first of the three performances was on May 18, commemorating the centenary of Mahler's death. We went on Friday, and it was one of the most memorable concerts in a long time. It was a live broadcast, live webcast, and being recorded for release as with the whole cycle, or odyssey. Quite a big night then.

The concert started with Scottish born pianist Steven Osborne playing a delicate and delightful Mozart Piano Concerto No. 13 in C. Mozart, along with Alma, were supposedly Gustav Mahler's last words.

Then the 9th.

The programme notes introduce the Mahler 9 as "Another World". Maybe, maybe not. To me this was a warm and loving reflection on this world, and very much of this world. It was wonderful. Perhaps the 10th is, or would have been, of 'another world'; much of it has the feel to me of someone looking back on himself from the 'otherside', those death snares, the funeral beat, already dead, being swept away. But this 9th was still very much in this world, not yet gone, but ready to leave, ready to let go. The love and resolution Ashkenazy evoked was more than reassuring - it was assertive, as positive a statement about the composer as I so needed to hear.

Unlike the Das Lied von der Erde with its aching attachment to existence, here was a man at terms with his fate. The first movement was beautifully shaped, with waves of emotion and love from some gorgeous string playing, inevitably driven forward but without dread, despite ripples of fear and chill scuttering through the winds, death becoming inevitable if not yet embraced, a shoulder looked over again remembering the love in life. It was refined, elegant playing, a European sound C said later, the brass and horns (having a very good night so far) contained, the larrikan brashness of the Mahler 1, now a year and a half ago, long left behind. Mr Ashkenazy was shaping a wonderful journey.

The second movement was not so much a dance of death, nor a dance despite death, but rather a dance regardless of death. This was death not feared so much as becoming irrelevant. The mad tumble rumble of the worldly Rondo-Burleske had its climax contained such that it sounded like a perfectly appropraite faux-climax, nothing to celebrate, everything just understood. And then the final Adagio. I've gone all goosey again remembering it. With beautiful and fantastic ensemble string playing, perfectly balanced dynamics and soft diminishing pianissimos, Ashkenazy evoked an elegant contented resigned slow extinction of life, a release, a happy release dare I cliche, till there was just silence.

I've already bought the Das Lied von der Erde. I'll be buying this. But mostly, I consider myself lucky to have been there. I now think differently about Mahler and his complex impenetrable Judeo-Christian life.


marcellous said...

Your account puts my own rather niggardly one well in the shade.

What are the chances that May 18 saw an all-time record number of performances of Mahler 9 on the one calendar date? Sydney's certainly wasn't the only one, though subject to the situation in NZ and Kiribati it may well have been the first.

wanderer said...

Hello M. Alex Ross managed a list of May 18 happenings (didn't notice Kiribati), and then probably the tip of the iceberg. You sound more reserved in judgement. I was quite transported (did you guess that?) with a work I'd been struggling to get my head around.