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Moving performance of Mahler's Ninth given by BSO



Mahler's Ninth Symphony.

Conducted by Seiji Ozawa.

Performances Tuesday and

next Friday at 8 pm.

Tickets from $17 to $45.

Rush tickets for Tuesday (and every

Friday afternoon and Saturday night

concert) sold 9 am day of show for $6.


MAHLER -- TO SOME PEOPLE, the name conjures his orchestration: four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, bass tuba. To some, the name conjures length: many of his symphonies take up two compact discs. The biggest complaint about Mahler is that his music is just too big, but as demonstrated at the Boston Symphony Orchestra last night, his Ninth Symphony is never long-winded, never banal. Above all, the symphony is actually sensitive. It is the music of someone human, someone who faces life and death (he was informed of a fatal heart condition two years before he started the symphony), like any person does. Conductor Seiji Ozawa did a remarkable job of linking the composer, orchestra and audience. Unlike the lifeless rendition of Debussy works I heard last spring, the BSO's performance was sincere and moving.

The opening strings of the first movement entered with a feeling of warmth and lushness -- almost magical. The horns also played brilliantly, as the orchestra almost effortlessly built up to a climax. Balance was amazingly well kept; the horns never drowned out the strings, even in the loudest moments, although middle voices were occasionally lost. There was no hint of mechanical playing here. The music was powerful and dramatic, and the orchestra seemed to be perfectly in tune with it. The first movement featured many moments of gorgeous texture -- something more often associated with the French composers at the time -- beautifully done by the BSO.

The second movement (marked In the tempo of a comfortable L"andler. Somewhat clumsy and very coarse) is a sarcastic scherzo, its mock-classicism foreseeing Stravinsky. The playing was appropriately biting, and the orchestra handled the movement's technical difficulties seemingly without effort.

The third movement, marked to be played very defiantly, contains furious passages. The conclusion's furiousness, in fact, could not be fully sensed until the ensuing silence, much as one cannot fully sense cold until one steps out of it.

The symphony's subject, so to speak, is life, and much as life eventually comes to end, so must the symphony. The last movement is perhaps where the most profound, or most scared, statements are made. The symphony ends not with huge fanfare, but with quiet contemplation.

Throughout the whole symphony, the overall impression I received was one of humanity. Mahler was, after all, human (albeit a very bold and confident one), and his music reflects the uncertainties and queries that any person has about life. The performance had a warm, personal touch. Paradoxically, in contrast, Beethoven's music (which the music of Mahler and everyone else is most often compared to, usually negatively) seems "bigger" because of its failure to create the intimacy that is in Mahler's Ninth Symphony.

Perhaps last night's performance explains Ozawa's inadequacy at performing Debussy or certain other composers: he overromanticizes it; he feels the impulse to communicate with his audience on that type of level. Those people who expect godlike proclamations of Beethoven (only bigger) will be disappointed by Mahler's Ninth (as will those who have already determined that Mahler's music is too big). Those who are to the music of a person facing life and death will enjoy an evening at the BSO.