BWW Review: New York Philharmonic Performs Mahler's 5TH SYMPHONY at Geffen Hall, Lincoln Center

From the first notes of Christopher Martin's clarion call trumpet intro, it was clear the audience was in for something quite special. In no time at all Maestro Van Zweden put his own definitive signature on the mammoth five-movement excursion from the deepest darkest recesses to the most reflective music ever written, and back to the sunlight light.

BWW Review: New York Philharmonic Performs Mahler's 5TH SYMPHONY at Geffen Hall, Lincoln Center
Conductor Jaap Van Zweden Photo: Chris Lee

If this concert is any indication of the kind of playing we can expect from the orchestra under their new music director, it is very good news indeed. Early on, Van Zweden set a very regal pace for the first movement, digging deep into its funeral march roots and bringing forth the tragic underpinning in the music. Maestro Van Zweden had a clear path in mind and managed to keep the pace consistent and the tension high throughout the movement.

For the second movement, Van Zweden chose a slightly brisker-than-usual tempo which suited its unsettled counterpoint quite well (better than this critic expected) - major kudos to the cello section here. It also provided a more clear and focused contrast to the sunny major brass at the conclusion of the movement.

The third movement, the Scherzo is one of Mahler's greatest creations. In truth, calling it a simple scherzo is to do it a disservice. At nearly 20 minutes it is nearly double the length of most scherzos and its daring adventures and numerous developments make it genuinely unique. In this symphony it is the fulcrum, or the transitional element from the heavy brass that marked the first two movements, to the woodwinds that help color the dance elements, to finally the strings which dominate the fourth and fifth movements. Here, Maestro truly shined, providing a sort of musical transfiguration where that darkness was fading and the hope for light was beginning.

Van Zweden highlighted the delicacy of the famous adagietto allowing it to flow and glow with extreme softness, highlighting the melancholy mood it evocates. Principle Harpist, Nancy Allen really shined and showed once again why she is the preeminent harpist in the country.

The performance concluded with a dignified and exhilarating final movement which began with a plaintive solo horn, immediately echoed by the strings, which then built and built slowly and finally exploded into a magnificent coda. "Frisch" or fresh is the word Mahler used to describe this movement and it was certainly that, ending a truly triumphant culmination of nearly 80 minutes of pure joy.

The enormous ovation that punctuated the end of the performance was long, loud and well-deserved. Maestro Van Zweden very generously shared the applause with his soloists and the orchestra together. If this performance is any indicator of things to come, Maestro Van Zweden and his orchestra have just embarked on the beginning a beautiful relationship.

Peter Danish

Classical Editor

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