CBSO Mahler Nine recording
CBSO at Symphony Hall ****
From a slow-burning start under Ilan Volkov this performance of Mahler's Symphony No. 9 blazed magnificently in the final two movements. The Rondo-Burlesque was an epic contest between Mahler's grotesque barrage of counterpoint – trenchantly "defiant" as the composer wanted – and intrusions by parodied light music. The CBSO basses, lined up across the rear of the platform, the brass and percussion sections hurled volley after volley while Lehar's Merry Widow minced in and Till Eulenspiegel gambolled about. Mahler's most splenetic music captured Vienna's profundity and triviality, the city of Freud, Wittgenstein, Schubert – and Sachertorte.
Mahler's opening gambit, the duet of horn and second violins with the firsts surreptitiously taking over, was muted by Volkov's decision not to split the sections, as Mahler would have expected. He also failed to find enough heavy-footed clod-hopping coarseness in the Ländler. The final Adagio made amends: aided by outstanding string and wind playing the confrontation with mortality had the ineffability of great music. Not even an unfortunate loud and long vocal contribution by one audience member could totally eradicate its beauty, although it probably ruined the BBC's recording.
Two works by composers who died in Nazi concentration camps (as did Mahler's niece violinist Alma Rose) were imaginative pieces of programming. Hans Krása's witty Overture for Small Orchestra had delightful perky parts for clarinet and trumpet. Gideon Klein, only 25 when he died, was a composer of great promise, his Partita for strings has the rhythmic drive of Bartok and a similar brilliant use of folk-song material.