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Ionarts-at-Large: Mahler in Frankfurt

The same Frankfurt Opera & Museum Orchestra—if not the identical personnel—that had performed L’étoile and Pelléas et Mélisande on the Saturday and Sunday before returned on Monday to Frankfurt’s Old Opera—remodeled in the 80s to become a concert house*—for Gustav Mahler’s Third Symphony.

To meet Mahler’s immodest demands on the orchestra, MD Sebastian Weigle picked 22 students from the conservatory after successful trials and joined the professionals in rehearsals and the two Mahler performances, the first of which had already been squeezed in before Pelléas, as a Sunday matinee. The forces plunged into Mahler’s most ambitious symphony with unmitigated relish. The first movement, with its dynamic hither and thither, had tension to relish but came close to a choppy stop-and-go. In terms of sheer loudness the orchestra had no competition to fear. From there it went lively and quick with a fluid pulse through the Tempo di Menuetto. The backstage posthorn solo went and came accident free; at least one Cuckoo died an inherently weird death in the third movement, while the brass just avoided such an incident late in that movement. Maria Radner did the Oh-Mensching in the fourth movement with a voice of reed and whiskey, beautifully effortless, and large and with just that little hint of oddity that suits this grim and pale telling of Nietzsche’s six line poem from Also sprach Zarathustra. The winds’ lilting upward slides were oddly performed, as if spelling the score out, rather than interpreting it.

The finale, which is really the reason to listen to the Third Symphony, was built with unrelenting patience by Weigle. Perfect for closing one’s eyes and letting Mahler fly away with you: You deserve it at that point. Not a performance for all times, but that Frankfurt evening certainly one for the moment.

* Inaugurated with Mahler’s Eighth.