Mahler's sixth symphony is a work that speaks clearly to the 21st century. It is music of juxtapositions, of maximums, complexities, and tensions all held together by crazy love. Simon Rattle led the Berliner Philharmoniker in a performance of Mahler 6 transmitted live in the Digital Concert Hall that shaped the seemingly irreconcilable.
There was a moment in the exposition of the first movement where "Alma's Theme," in F major slides from its complex presentation into a gentle closing powered by earthy triplet fifths. Rattle allowed a slight hesitation leading into this passage, giving the music a chance to breathe. Again after the lyrical violin phrase that greeted us there was another slight hesitation. The music was able to delay the inevitable juxtaposition of marching to which it was already committed.
The same section was not identical during the repeat --and this subtle change pointed the music toward the military episode the opened the development. These microscopic details may seem invisible in a symphony that sprawls. But it is the accumulation of details that make this music scream.
Rattle performed the inner movements in the Andante/Scherzo ordering. He paused to allow an orchestral tuning before the scherzo and then brought the finale attaca. The finale explored the controlled and cerebral side of the spectrum with effective outbursts--like reading Schopenhauer during a lightening storm.
Rattle did not give away the terrifying ending of this work with a huge gesture and you could feel the audience jump even though most of their reaction was off-camera.
Berg's Three Pieces for Orchestra (Drei Orchesterstücke) Op. 6 opened the program. The orchestra focused the elegant and sophisticated side of this music, sanding and smoothing away the wildness with which it is often performed.
There was a terrific balancing at the end of the second movement where the unusual timbre massed oboes, solo violins, massed clarinets, and four piccolos echoed one another and then froze in a mist of trills to create a sonority that was particularly crisp and tasty.
There is a passage at the end of the third movement where Berg seems to invent the sound world of Christopher Rouse. The Berliner Philharmoniker played the ending in relaxed and jazzy colors that became gradually edgy to prepare one of the great symphonic closes.
Berg and Mahler knew one another, and these two works communicated in sonic friendship.