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A friend took me to see Gergiev conducting Mahler’s Second Symphony with the LSO last night.

It has not been my favourite piece of Mahler – I appreciate the Sixth, Seventh, Ninth Symphony or Das Lied von der Erde more. But last night performance changed my point of view to the piece – not totally, but it certainly helped me to understand and appreciate the piece better.

First and foremost, there was so much more violence in this piece than I previously realised; at time, it was as frightening as the Sixth. But that was not all – violence and anger alone cannot conquer the world alone, if at all. Gergiev’s decision to play the three middle movements attacca was more than a touch of genius, and it really showed his understanding of the theatricality of the music: just as the ländler of the second movement coming to an end, the tranquility was interrupted by the short, aggressive timpani strokes. It hit you like the news of the suicide of your best friend for twenty-three years – shocking and merciless. Life would never be the same again – even the transcendental luminosity of the primal light could not turn back time. But that is just life.

It was interesting to note that Gergiev placed the first violins, cellos and double basses on his left, and the second violins and violas on his right – it made an arresting listening experience. Never have I heard In ruhig fliessender Bewegung sounding so kaleidoscopic and manic. If that was not spellbounding, I am not sure what is.

I look forward to his Rachmaninoff symphonies this autumn.

August 2020
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