The Philharmoniker is on tour this month with Semyon Bychkov, but before they departed, the sexist bastards are allowing us in Vienna a preview of their three programs in four concerts. This represents the sum total of their performances in the city this month. This is rather typical (unles you count the Staatsoper, which you shouldn’t). Three different programs is actually generous, comparatively speaking.
Mahler’s Symphony No. 6, the “Tragic,” is just about as imposing as No. 9, which I heard Dudamel and the LA Philharmonic give a few weeks ago. Unfortunately I felt that this performance was also lacking something, though I can’t quite put my finger on what. Maybe these are more my usual problems navigating Mahler’s unwieldy forms than the orchestra’s. It was extraordinarily accomplished on a technical level, with faultlessly clear textures and ensemble, opulent tone, and, with the exception of some overloud brass, barely a note out of place or balance. For those of you who collect critical editions, the scherzo preceded the andante but there were only two hammer blows.
I liked the restrained opening, and Bychkov and the orchestra never resorted to excess. However, I wonder if they perhaps should have–this is Mahler, after all. Some odd tempos and an oddly episodic feeling made the entire performance never really pay off. There were lovely moments: beautiful chamber playing in the winds in the first movement, that otherworldly strings/percussion passage, and particularly the opening of the third movement, which had a gorgeous gentleness. But the second movement lacked a certain element of caricature, and the lengthy last movement, until the exciting coda, again felt disconnected. In 90 minutes, you’d think it would add up to something.
Also, I couldn’t see the hammer due to a column. This was very disappointing. Is the Philharmoniker still using the Ur-Mahler Hammer? I think there is a good chance they are.
Wiener Philharmoniker, Semyon Bychkov, conductor. Musikverein, 2/2011. Program: Mahler, Symphony No. 6, “Tragic.”