The Moscow State Symphony Orchestra under Pavel Kogan gave an excellent reading of Mahler’s 9th this evening in the Tschaikowsky Hall.
Kogan paired the symphony with Schubert’s 4th (the “Tragic”), presumably to demonstrate Mahler’s classical antecedents. The Schubert was workmanlike, but given the manner in which Kogan shaped the Mahler, the pairing came across as odd. Mahler’s 9th, while tying up elements of his own life, is musically-speaking not a backwards-looking symphony but instead looks forward to a musical language that Schostakowitsch would develop. Nowhere was this more clear than in the two outer movements, where Kogan drew out sonorities that clearly provided a preview for Schostakowitsch. The two outer movements bracketed the grotesque dances that make up the inner movements. There may be a lesson in those two inner movements, but the lesson I took away from tonight’s performance was from the frame: this symphony does not represent the triumph of the human soul over death, which cannot be defeated, but rather the triumph of the human soul over life, which must be defeated.
Now that’s a philosophical performance.