It’s arduous to think about a time when Mahler’s music was obscure.
His Fifth Symphony alone retains popping up. Jaap van Zweden selected it to make a press release final season, when he was the New York Philharmonic’s music director designate. The Los Angeles Philharmonic has performed it twice this 12 months. And on Monday night it confirmed up at Carnegie Hall, in a live performance by the visiting Boston Symphony Orchestra.
In a crowded subject of Mahler, what do the Bostonians and their music director, Andris Nelsons, have to supply? The reply, at Carnegie at the least: nothing greater than essentially the most by-the-book studying attainable.
To some extent, this needs to be anticipated of the Boston Symphony, an orchestra that’s expert however not showy. Throughout the Mahler, the brasses had been in glorious type, and the strings by no means gave into hysteria. But Mr. Nelsons’s measured account of this frenzied work — which usually runs about 70 minutes however approached 80 on Monday — typically got here off as timid, even ponderous.
This respectable inoffensiveness might need been extra satisfying had I not heard Susanna Malkki lead a mind-opening efficiency of Mahler’s Fifth with the Los Angeles Philharmonic earlier this month. The symphony is episodic; listening to it’s like binge-watching a whole season of a TV melodrama. But below Ms. Malkki’s baton it had the cohesion of a novel. The Philharmonic musicians adopted her faithfully, including perception after perception to an overplayed work. And she introduced out inside voices that retreated again into anonymity in Mr. Nelsons’s interpretation.
The Boston Symphony as soon as once more excelled in its programming. (Something to sit up for: its spring engagement at Carnegie, which can embody the New York premiere of a piano concerto by Thomas Adès.) It prefaced the Mahler with HK Gruber’s 1999 trumpet concerto “Aerial,” a bit that ends a lot because the symphony begins and shares its stylistic variety, unwieldy spirit and, finally, Viennese character.
The soloist was Hakan Hardenberger, for whom the concerto was written. He was red-faced as he bravely juggled the piece’s a number of solo devices — a regular trumpet in C, a piccolo one in B flat and a cow’s horn, resting subsequent to him on a Steinway piano bench — and its comically excessive dynamic marking of “ffff” (fortissississimo).
“Aerial” suggests a vantage level, and the feel of this evocative concerto delivers on that: The first motion, “Done with the compass — Done with the chart!,” named after an Emily Dickinson poem, conjures a cold Arctic panorama. The soloist is requested to create multiphonic sound by enjoying one observe, vocalizing one other and, via the magic of acoustics, summoning a 3rd; the impact is like wind sneaking via the cracks of poorly insulated home windows in winter.
Like many works by Mr. Gruber, “Aerial” additionally dabbles in in style idioms. The trumpet’s mute provides a contact of Lynchian noir. And within the second motion, “Gone Dancing,” the orchestra breaks right into a raucous celebration. Mr. Nelsons and the Bostonians maintained precision whereas relishing this finale’s inconstant rhythms — dances that capriciously recalled golden-age Hollywood and the Middle East. Where was this adventurous vitality through the Mahler?