Back in the Great Festival House, the dour Finns sounded much better this evening for a program of Schostakowitsch and Mahler. The Helsinki Philharmonic and Susanna Mälkki seemed more comfortable than on Wednesday, as did cellist Truls Mørk with the Schostakowitsch concerto more in his comfort zone than the Elgar.
Mørk’s Schostakowitsch was paranoid – as though the Soviet police might come on stage at any moment and arrest and deport him. Mälkki bought into this, and a certain nervousness pervaded everything. This was not so much Schostakowitsch triumphing over Stalin, but more basic survival… for now.
Hearing a Finnish orchestra do Mahler was a treat. Tonight came his 9th Symphony, which allowed this group to keep their melancholic mood going from Wednesday. This approach worked best in the third movement, for a off-kilter dance, and especially in the pensive final movement. Mälkki is still a bit too blockish in her approach, which broke up the flow of the first two movements – and oddly meant less precision where Mahler’s lines run into or against each other. But she warmed, the music cooled, and the audience was left hanging in the balance, where we belonged, questioning our existence. She and the orchestra earned a much bigger and warmer applause than on Wednesday, well deserved this evening.