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In a word: outstanding

Kultur- und Kongresscentrum Luzern
09/11/2010 -  
Aaron Copland: Organ Symphony
Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 5

Paul Jacobs (organ)
San Francisco Symphony, Michael Tilson Thomas (conductor)

M. Tilson Thomas (© Peter Fischli/Lucerne Festival)

And here comes yet another orchestra, the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, with a Mahler cycle to be tackled over the next year. This time we are in the capable hands of a most experienced Mahlerian, Michael Tilson Thomas, conducting this performance without a score.

There was really only one word for this concert: outstanding. From the opening bars one sensed Tilson Thomas’ absolute mastery of this music. The Principal Trumpet Mark Inouye impressed from his first notes, an impression he confirmed as the work progressed. The orchestra as a whole was convincing in all sections; the brass stood out as did the rhythmic and hard-hitting timpanist.

Tilson Thomas, with his extrovert and almost balletic conducting style, was urgent, spontaneous and passionate where he needed to be, lyrical and moving but not sentimental in the Adagietto. Was this Adagietto, perhaps, a memorial to those who perished in the terrorist attacks exactly nine years ago, 9/11/2001?

This was Mahler in the Bernstein style, anguished and biting wherever the music allowed. Tilson Thomas drained the last drop of emotion wherever he could. The audience was rapt throughout; at the end the cheers rang out over Lake Lucerne and way into the mountains.

The concert had opened with Copland’s Organ Symphony, which, after a dirge-like opening, verily springs to life but, being an early work (he wrote it when he was 24 for his teacher Nadia Boulanger), it fails to display much of his later individualism, so no jazzy riffs or folk tunes. Too often it sounded like Stravinsky or Mahler. However it was worth an outing, and good for a European audience to hear something unknown. Paul Jacobs played with finesse.

John Rhodes



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