The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Friday, January 07, 2005  

The Best Was Mahler

My apologies for the light posting of late. I’ve had several busy days and busy nights, a rare coincidence of trends.

Last night, thanks to the generosity of a great friend, another friend and I heard the Philadelphia Orchestra perform Mahler’s Symphony No. 9. We were sitting in one of the best boxes in the house.

Mahler’s Ninth is not an easy work, for the players and for the audience: four movements with no intermission.

The performance was outstanding. The Philadelphia Orchestra long has been noted for its amazing strings. They were in fine form last night, and the audience responded with a standing ovation.

{Post-publication addendum (January 8): Peter Dobrin reviews the performance in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer. Excerpts: “Christoph Eschenbach Thursday night made it through his first Mahler Symphony No. 9 with the Philadelphia Orchestra with no major mishaps, no major insights. . . . In the second movement, the conductor never quite established a core tempo (from which could depart the many tempo changes specified by Mahler). A firm tempo could not be felt even for a few measures at a time. This movement in particular was as clear a snapshot as any of the Eschenbach-Philadelphia Orchestra problem in the middle of their second season together. The first question is whether his interpretation is valid; the second is whether Eschenbach can communicate that interpretation in a way that’s clear enough for the orchestra to follow. The resulting dilemma for the orchestra, often, is the extent to which it should follow him. . . . As a source of general visual inspiration up there on the podium, Eschenbach is not uninteresting. What some of those gestures mean -- a frantically trembling left hand, for instance -- is not at all clear. . . . The long first movement, despite an opening so slow it made the orchestra sound oddly brittle, turned out to be a lovely salve. . . . The last movement, the ‘Adagio,’ glowed, and not only with the orchestra’s saturated string sound. The final, dying moments were so tender, so diaphanous, that the orchestra made it seem as if we were in the presence of something composed of pure spirit.”]

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