San Francisco Symphony/Michael Tilson Thomas at Carnegie Hall – 2 – Mahler 10 Adagio & Symphony 1

Symphony No.10 in F-sharp – I: Adagio
Symphony No.1 in D

San Francisco Symphony
Michael Tilson Thomas

Reviewed by: Elizabeth Barnette

Reviewed: 8 April, 2017
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City

Michael Tilson Thomas conducting San Francisco Symphony at Carnegie HallPhotograph: Jennifer TaylorMaking a short speech at the start of this second San Francisco Symphony concert at Carnegie Hall, Michael Tilson Thomas emphasized the meditative aspects of Mahler’s Tenth Symphony, started in the summer of 1910 during arguably the most difficult time in the composer’s private life, distraught enough for him to consult Freud. The five-movement work would be unfinished when the composer died the following year. This performance of the opening Adagio, however, reflected only MTT’s exalted view – beautiful, warm string playing (the violas notably), nuanced solos, but without anguish, downplaying the dissonances to the point that the great outburst of nine pitches piled atop each other barely had an impact.

Mahler’s First Symphony was similarly well-played, displaying every detail of the texture and adhering closely to the score for the most part – save the last sections of the first movement (which had had no sense of mystery at the beginning with the offstage trumpets too loud the first time) and of the Scherzo parts of the second, where MTT took fast tempos early, not leaving himself any room to speed up and drive to a dramatic end, and in the ‘Funeral March’ there was no use of the wood of the bow, as requested in the score. In Mahler, however, mere faithfulness towards what is written is not enough when it is not paired with connecting to the emotional undercurrent of the music. In this respect the account was less satisfying, MTT apparently mainly concerned with exact execution. Although at times he gave us beautiful moments, such as in the lyrical sections of the Finale, overall one missed a heartfelt, cogent narrative through Mahler’s intrinsically programmatic work (even if he himself withdrew the ‘Titan’ program). There was though a good broad tempo at the end, but although the eight horn-players were standing, their instruments could barely be heard – and they didn’t make up for it by raising the bells.

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