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Mahler Symphony No 1, San Francisco Symphony

The Schoenberg 'Theme and Variations Op. 43b' opened this San Francisco Symphony concert under the baton of Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT). It was a very tonal Schoenberg with a rich tapestry of sound, though we detected a bit of stiffness in the orchestra - not sure why. This was followed by Henry Cowell 'Piano Concerto' - its Proms debut. Well, the soloist Jeremy Denk did a lot of thumping and elbowing to the Model D on stage - interesting to have heard it. Denk then played a short encore 'Piano Sonata No2, 3rd Mov.' by Charles Ives (contemporary of Cowell) with much subtlety and finesse - arguably the best piece in the first half of the concert.

Then it was Mahler Symphony No 1. MTT conducted without score and somehow the whole band was transformed. The mysteriousness of the opening movement, the slightly decadent dances in the middle movements, through to the visceral 'young' Mahlerian sound world of the last movement were all beautifully played. The brass section was fantastic - not a single split note from the horns. The star was MTT - he let the strings indulge a little with their portamenti, the brass to swagger, and the music suspend in the right places. Definitely one of the best live Mahler 1 performances I have ever heard.


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