We had a very spontaneous outing last night. At 6pm I looked at the St David's Hall programme and discovered that Mahler's 'Das Lied von der Erde" was being performed - we thought it was on Saturday when we couldn't go. So two quick changes and 2 cheese sandwiches (eaten in the car) later, we were in Cardiff at the concert.
The first half was Beethoven's 4th which I don't know very well. He wrote a big symphony then a small one, and this is sandwiched between the Eroica and the 5th, which are pretty big and imposing neighbours to contend with. It was charming, inventive, light, very melodic, but doesn't engage the deep emotions that the 2 either side do.
After the interval the orchestra doubled in size, with the addition of some unusual instruments like a contra bassoon and 5 french horns, 2 harps and celeste. I'd never heard this piece before. Mahler had a deep superstition about writing his 9th symphony because no one since Beethoven had completed a 9th symphony, they had all died. So he didn't call it a 9th symphony, even though that is really what it is. It isn't symphonic in structure, having more than 4 movements and those movements not taking the usual symphonic structure. It is a setting of 6 Chinese poems translated into German, sung by tenor and contralto (can be a baritone but we had a contralto), and each poem is a different movement. It was absolutely stunning. We weren't actually seated in the best place because we were in one of the upper tiers so the soloists voices were being overcome by the orchestra when the orchestra really let rip, whereas had we been in the stalls i think the sound balance would have been better. Even so it was an experience.
Some of the movements are light and cheerful, but overall the words and the music are a farewell to life, and the final movement, which is very long, takes you through a range of sounds and emotions with the contra bassoon sounding like a musical foghorn with the very quiet singing , the french horns right at the bottom of their register, the flute, the clarinet, the piccolo all at various times playing duets with the singer. Then at the end the celeste plays with the really quiet singing of the contralto, and creates a complete stillness which lasted for nearly a minute after they finished playing, and the applause began. It was wonderful.
Music is extraordinary in its power to create that. How does something so dynamic as music, which is all about movement in one way or another create a sense of stillness, of stasis?
It was a fantastic concert.