Friday, June 14, 2024

Berliner Philharmonie, Herbert-von-Karajan-Straße, Berlin

His close rapport with the Berlin Philharmonic notwithstanding – bespoken by the virtuosity, gutsy attack and sheen of the playing – Gustav Dudamel’s conducting of Mahler’s Sixth Symphony didn’t always look behind the notes enough, or read between the lines. The first movement (with exposition repeat) was certainly energico but a little more ma non troppo would have been welcome, for once into the development there was a faster charge that elicited a certain glibness, although the cowbells were magically scenic and much eloquence pervaded the flute and (Noah Bendix-Balgley) violin duet: when the coda arrived it was like skating unstoppably down an icy steep hill, if arriving safely, which may explain why the relative serenity of the slow movement was now needed rather than the pulsating Scherzo, to which Dudamel invested numerous tempo changes, lopsidedness the result. The Andante, now with us, from intimate to ecstatic, was effectively spacious, rendered with much sensitivity and really meant something (in the hall, the disposition of violins either side of the podium – cellos and basses centre-left – would have been wonderfully widescreen). Without the Scherzo to bring us back down to earth, it was straight into the fateful Finale (competing now with the opening match of the UEFA European Championships, Germany v. Scotland, from Munich – TV sound muted, eyes occasionally on the screen, ears focussed on Mahler), which was a confident ride certain of destination … until the first hammer-blow struck, the wooden box being hit going back to Karajan’s time, and panic set in, the second strike enough for a kill, yet time to lick wounds, have one more valiant attempt to get home, but succumbing to the softest of the knocks (no need for Mahler’s third, superstitious, hammer-blow), Fate taking a victory bow. An honourable draw between composer and conductor, then, and after forty minutes of football it’s already Germany 3, Scotland 0.

(Update, the Final score was 5:1.)