qatsi (qatsi) wrote,
qatsi
qatsi

So many notes, so little time

Thanks to BBC Online I had a free seat for this concert. The arena filled slowly but surely, with the ushers eventually cajoling people to squeeze in yet more punters for what was sure to be an exciting Prom.

Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto began at breakneck pace. I was tempted to paraphrase that line from Amadeus: "Mr Mendelssohn, there are simply too many notes." Yet somehow Gil Shaham fitted them all in. Despite being one of Mendelssohn's late works (he died aged 38), it is youthful and energetic. Mendelssohn is deservedly popular, and the caricature of him as a Victorian heart-throb is unfortunate, though not necessarily inaccurate. Certainly one can imagine W S Gilbert setting some topsy-turvy little ditty to the tune of the last movement.

Mahler's Symphony No 1 is a long-standing favourite of mine. It is the most startlingly original of any composer's entry into the symphonic world, although structurally it is quite conventional. The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra was on fire from start to finish. In the first movement, Mariss Jansons demonstrated the extraordinary dynamic range of the orchestra - sometimes unbelievably quiet and controlled, at others almost recklessly on full power. In the second and third movements, he played - successfully - with the tempo. The ländler of the second movement certainly conjured images of a drunken, staggering, rustic dance, and the pathos and lunacy of the third (a tongue-in-cheek funeral march based on the round Bruder Martin, or Frère Jacques), was perfect. But the best was still to come. The last movement somehow has to tie all the loose ends together, and it was spectacular, including the French Horn section standing as per Mahler's original direction at the triumphal final chords. Every section of the orchestra performed brilliantly throughout and was acknowledged individually during the applause.

As if that were not enough, the audience managed to extract two encores on this occasion. I'm not sure what the first one was (a pleasant little dance for the string section, possibly Haydn or Mozard; maybe Boccherini, but not the minuet, I think); the second was Wagner's Prelude to Act 3 of Lohengrin. The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra could certainly teach the LPO a thing or two about playing Wagner. Their batteries must need recharging sometime - but they were certainly on full throttle during the performance.
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