The Siam Philharmonic, led by concertmaster Olah Vilmos from the Hungarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Somtow Sucharitkul, negotiated the complexities of Mahler's last symphony at the National Theatre on Nov 5 to a stunned audience.
Stretching the boundaries of tonality, the Tenth Symphony heralded new sounds which formed a precursor to the music which came immediately after. Written in the summer of 1910, towards the end of Mahler's life, the work was almost complete except for the orchestration, which was completed by British musicologist Deryck Cooke in 1959-60 and remains the most performed edition. And it was this that was performed by the Siam Philharmonic.
The Tenth calls for a large orchestral complement of instruments including a special drum which recalls the slow march of a funeral procession Mahler heard from the window of his apartment in New York.
Most of Mahler's symphonies have within them some form of procession or march indicating his constant preoccupation with the inevitability of death. The Tenth is his last statement, a final farewell to life.
The dedication and focus of the orchestra's players with this material gave the performance a stunning reading, but not without some minor glitches in some of the notation. The overarching affect the performance had was that rare quality of heart and soul.
This was the real Mahler we were hearing. The emotional and intellectual aspects were played with love and understanding: it communicated. The performance was transcendent.
It seems that the ongoing Mahler Cycle in Bangkok improves with each performance. With most of the symphonies now performed, this leaves only the Second and the imposing Eighth, both calling for a massive chorus and vocal soloists.
The Tenth requires well over an hour of unbroken concentration and the audience was up to the task. There was a kind of hush over the concert hall save, of course, for the music itself. The symphony starts and ends with a soft whisper untypical of Mahler whose normally blazing finishes exalts audiences _ the Tenth left this audience stunned into silence for a full 17 seconds.
As is becoming a tradition for Mahler performances, Somtow's baton was the one owned by Leonard Bernstein who last used it when he conducted Mahler's Ninth Symphony in San Francisco in the late 1980s, shortly before his death.
Each of the preceding Mahler performances in Bangkok have been conducted using this baton, perhaps giving these performances a spirit and lending a kind of immortality to Bernstein, one of Mahler's most formal exponents and a champion of his symphonies. Let us hope this legacy lives on in Bangkok.
About the author
Writer: Stan Gayuski