For the third year in a row, Mahler‘s Ninth graced the program at the Salzburg Festival, each with a different orchestra and conductor, and thus interpretation. Tonight, Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra provided a surprisingly happy reading… which left me a little befuddled. It was indeed a good performance, but not quite as I might have expected, and at the opposite end of the interpretative spectrum from the anguish of Bernard Haitink and the Vienna Philharmonic last year.
Rattle’s interpretation was missing what would normally be the key ingredient for Mahler: angst. The London Symphony Orchestra replicated its joy and lilt and overall good humor from last night (Rattle must certainly have more fun with them than with the Berlin Philharmonic). The symphony presented itself as a series of dances – albeit off-kilter (and by the end of the third movement rather frantic). Even the outer movements became boisterous. Only at the very end, where the symphony fades away, did the mood get contained, but given what had come before this seemed to describe a life fully lived. The only problem was that Mahler was pensive even on a good day, and he wrote this symphony while dying and consumed by superstition, so Rattle’s take on it was peculiar, to say the least.
The Orchestra responded, however. As I noted yesterday, the strings do sound a tad thin, and tonight the winds now and then cracked some notes. So maybe I need to hear this orchestra more (and perhaps after Rattle has had more time with them) before reaching a conclusion. Top ten certainly – probably more personality than Berlin (even when performing under Rattle).