Make way for Mahler

By By Matt Barney

By Matt Barney

Concertgoers who attended the performance of Gustav Mahler’s Fifth Symphony at Abravanel Hall this weekend may have noticed the heightened intensity and excitement pervading the concert hall.

As one may surmise, this was Mahler’s doing-his effect on concertgoers and musicians alike is unmistakable.

After the performance, one thing was readily apparent: Gustav Mahler is a complete lunatic. His composition almost collapsed civilization, and madness almost enveloped us all.

But an apocalypse did not occur. Instead, we were all left with a pleasant euphoria.

Concertgoers were sweating Saturday night, in eager anticipation of the first epic trumpet note after the overture. And when it sounded, the mutual journey into musical landscapes began. An hour or so later, it ended with the triumphant explosion, seemingly emanating from conductor Keith Lockhart’s trembling body.

Lockhart should be commended: His immitigable conducting enthusiasm exuded pure joy. Somehow, maybe through magic, he managed to grab the pulse of that evening, transfer it to his orchestra and explode Mahler’s Fifth into the emotional, beautiful and frenzied interpretation that it rightly deserves.

The horns at the beginning of the second movement were dark and ominous, full of portent. In the third movement, the concertmaster, Ralph Matson, played a very interesting pizzicato solo. It was in waltz time and was reminiscent of renaissance or medieval music.

Somehow this worked-and well!

Mahler asks questions. He evokes images from our depths. He dares us into questioning: What does this mean? Is there a message? What is Mahler trying to tell us?

The sheer might of his compositions and their penetrating nature is what makes them so, in a word, controversial.

Sometimes the sheer weight of his movements can be overbearing, and just as one reaches the crux, Mahler relents and gives only a singular thread of life. It cannot be stressed enough: This man is truly peculiar. He pulls listeners into his fold, transfixes them, then forces awareness upon a new world that he has dreamt-a land alien in juxtaposition to what he had shown before.

Of course, this review would not be complete without mention of the fourth movement. The monophony of the strings and harps is a type of death, a deep sleep-or perhaps just a mid-afternoon reverie. It is enrapturing. One wonders whether it is coincidence that the calmest and simplest movement of the symphony is also the shortest movement.

But Mahler does not allow us to dream undisturbed. His realism prevents the Adagietto theme from collapsing into fantasy. Though the waters are dark in parts, without this, we cannot be assured of its truth. Nostalgia is defined as the longing for home, and the pain resulting from that longing-this characterizes perfectly the fourth movement.

When a single note knocks us out of our temporary heaven, we know the fifth movement has begun. It is pleasant, like the business of ordinary life; one is assured by its familiarity, and nothing here is alien or surreal. In contrast to the preceding movement, one is undoubtedly a part of the regular world. Like a parade or a celebration, it is lighthearted.

The grandeur of the finale is only moderated by its simplicity and a wisdom of balance. It evokes impressions of caprice, joie de vivre and sounds instilled with life, promise and hope.

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