qatsi (qatsi) wrote,

The Saddest Music in the World

Even in an educational and entertaining pre-Prom talk, Stephen Johnson, Jeremy Barham and David Matthews didn't make any attempt to change the perception of Mahler's 9th as a work focussed on loss and death. They began by scotching rumours that Haitink was ill and unable to conduct (goodness me, that would have caused a few heart murmurs in the audience). They talked about the Mahler "revival" of the 1960s (though it should perhaps have been challenged that this was a revival, as I don't think his music was at all popular prior to that in Britain). They cited Stravinsky's comment on Beethoven's Grosse Fuge: "It is modern music, and it will always be modern music". Certainly it was agreed that this moniker applies just as much to the work. They also discussed whether the work is actually complete, its relationships with Das Lied von der Erde and the incomplete 10th Symphony, quotations from (Johann) Strauss, Beethoven, Bruckner, and Abide With Me.

Or, as someone over on the Radio 3 Messageboards has rather succinctly summed up the impression often left by Mahler's music, "It's a beautiful day today, I think I'll go out and kill myself".

This was the single work in Prom 5, with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Bernard Haitink, silently varying his position between standing and perching on the edge of a chair on the rostrum, obviously suffering from a bad back. Fortunately Haitink isn't one of the more demonstrative conductors; his style is often more telepathic. The orchestral sound was wonderful; particularly the brass and woodwind. I did think the leader had way too much vibrato in his solo sections, as to a lesser extent did the principal viola. The raw emotion of the work wasn't always apparent but did burst through, particularly, I thought, in a tempo change in the third movement. It did seem that, though the audience was large and keen, there wasn't quite the sense of occasion that there would have been if this concert was towards the end of the season (as there was in 2006 when Haitink conducted Mahler's Resurrection Symphony). Perhaps Gianandrea Noseda would have been more visually passionate; or maybe it's just a typically adolescent reaction to encountering the reality of the impassive Haitink, one of the great interpreters of Mahler, the über-emo musician.
Tags: music
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