Many thanks to Robert R. Reilly for this review from the Kennedy Center.
Eschenbach and the NSO played the first movement with great clarity and precision – not to the point of pointillism, but not exactly a performance of passion either. It was like looking at a disturbed dream through an X-ray; you could see everything inside without being inside. The music was pretty much left to speak for itself, which it did quite well since it was played so beautifully by all departments. Nevertheless, this was an exterior view of it, slightly on the antiseptic side. Also, I never quite noticed before how many false endings there are in the first movement, which made it seem a bit interminable.
The second movement was also played with precision; there was never a doubt as to who was answering whom in the busy orchestral conversations. Eschenbach seemed to delight in pinpointing these. The third movement, called by Mahler “the brutal whirlpool of life,” was played with snap and alacrity. The blistering pace by itself made for sheer excitement in this highly spirited tour de force. It struck me that one might not hear anything this crazed and frantic till Shostakovich some 20 to 30 years later.
In the closing Adagio, the NSO moved from the exhilarating to the mesmerizing. It was as if Eschenbach and his players chose to relocate to the other side of the X-ray plate. They entered into and were now very much inside the music. In fact, to witness musical concentration at this level of intensity was worth the price of the evening by itself. As dazzling as the Rondo–Burleske was, the half-hour Adagio was the triumph of the evening. The dying of the music left a profound stillness in the hall that some brave soul finally broke after more than a minute of stunned silence with a shout of “bravi.” It was earned.
This concert repeats tonight.