Pure theatre. Or impure, some might say. The finale of Mahler’s sixth and most convincing symphony builds to what should be three hammer-blows of fate – but the composer seemingly chickened out: the fatal third blow, the one that would shatter all hope, is never struck.
Romanian conductor Ion Marin had the man with the sledgehammer raise it as if to strike a third time. Would he or wouldn’t he? He didn’t. Right or wrong? Dramatic or melodramatic? Take your pick. But it was true to Mahler’s indecision.
Either way, Marin was surely correct in placing the andante second, providing necessary contrast after the swift, purposeful opener, and providing the perfect setting for the horn’s ambivalent solo, heroic and tender.
The playing had both swagger and schmaltz in the scherzo before troubled, dark colours opened the finale. Here Mahler demands extraordinary effects from two harps – achieved here with irresistible force.
Woodwind and horns displayed flair and accuracy throughout, with the full brass section achieving a despairing hollowness of sound at the end. And the BSO strings, although under-powered in this context, have rarely sounded better.