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Friday, April 5, 2013

Concert Review: The Heart of the Mountain

Daniele Gatti conducts the Mahler Third.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Mahler groove: conductor Daniele Gatti.
Photo from DanieleGatti.Eu
Gustav Mahler’s Third Symphony is the Everest of its genre. Consisting of six movements and clocking in at nearly two hours, it is a visionary (some would say overblown) recreation of the natural and metaphysical world built the from elements of orchestral sound. But it’s easy to be left a little cold by the vast outer movements: detailed portraits of geological activity, changing seasons and abstract paeans to heavenly love.

On Thursday night at Carnegie Hall, conductor Daniele Gatti led the Boston Symphony Orchestra in a performance that celebrates the exuberant virtuosity of Mahler’s composition, while revealing the Third as a deeply personal work. Mr. Gatti accomplished this small miracle through command of Mahler's vast, ever evolving inner melodic line. He was aided by superb playing from the combined forces of the BSO, the women of the Tanglewood Festival chorus, the boys of the PALS Children’s Chorus and mezzo-soprano Anne-Sofie von Otter.

In the first movement, Mr. Gatti moved the granite-like blocks of percussion and brass with the ease of a wizard building Stonehenge. He made perfect musical sense of the triple exposition and development sequence that firms the structure of the 45-minute first movement. The deep brasses seemed to relish their turn in the spotlight, engaging in call-and-response with the horns and double basses. It was all very mysterious, but each eructation was played with purpose.

Mr. Gatti then introduced Mahler’s jaunty “summer” march tune, first in the woodwinds and then picked up by the strings. There were pleasures in the wealth of details: a few chugged chords from the cellos, the offstage snare fadeout that ends the second march. Three times the march returned, growing more insistent and more complicated as the orchestra reached a Bacchic climax. Twice, it was cut short in favor of a thematic recapitulation. When the end of the movement finally arrived, it did so with overwhelming force.

The central movements are smaller in scale. Mr. Gatti retained the rich tone and pointillist detail that made the opening so compelling. The delicate colors of the “flower” minuet were carefully shaded, like the fragrant blooms of Wagner’s Parsifal. In the Scherzo, with the mews and lows of wild beasts were reproduced uncannily by the BSO woodwinds and horns. the off-stage post horn solo was played with clear, pure tone, answered by the bass clarinet.

Mahler turns his cosmic lens on humanity in the fourth movement, a dead-slow, meditative setting of “O mensch, gib’ Acht!”, the Midnight Song from Nietzsche’s Also Sprach Zarathustra. It was sung with nobility and a lack of sentiment by Ms. Von Otter, sensitively accompanied by Mr, Gatti and the rumbling, growling orchestra. The women's and boys’ choruses joined Ms. von Otter for the fifth movement, a deceptively cheerful view of the afterlife drawn form the poetry collection Des Knaben Wunderhorn.

Mr. Gatti summoned every last resource to conduct the sixth and final movement, a sweeping, meditative Adagio. Here, the tough jagged peaks of the opening were rounded into smooth curves of sound. With careful guidance of the double basses and horns, Mr. Gatti maintained momentum through the enormous lengths of this finale, reaching the climactic timpani rolls and cymbal clashes that mirrored the repeats of the massive opening. Serenity arrived in the final coda, led with a rich glow of orchestral sound and a sense of accomplishment. The orchestra and conductor had climbed Mahler’s mountain of sound, and planted their flag at its peak.
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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.