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Textural genius (Hall of Fame #70)

"Daddy, when does it get fun?" my youngest daughter asked recently when the music I was listening to caught her attention. My reply - "it doesn't do that, it's Mahler". I posted the exchange on Facebook prompting multiple friends to rush to Mahler's defence. One shared this clip of a sledgehammer blow from his 6th Symphony.



It was the 5th Symphony I listened to today though, which occupies 70th place in the Hall of Fame countdown. Now I can see why Mahler has such stalwart fans. The brief description from Classic FM sets the scene well:

"Mahler is famous for the way in which he stretched classical music to its limits. Principally, this happened through his huge symphonies, which nearly all require a very large orchestra and often last for over an hour."

The 5th Symphony has an unusual five movements, with the orchestra expending masses of energy along the way. The shot at 22.30 is hypnotic - the players seething as one like some deep-sea organism. It's a drama from start to finish, with tender passages rising to cacophanous peaks. The audience must have been fairly shaken. I assume they don't stand at the end because of the cameras, but maybe their legs were just too weak? One of my highlights is Mahler's textural writing. He paints with a broad palette of sounds, incorporating glockenspiel, tam-tam, cor anglais and, err, planks of wood (see 38.36, but no hammers sadly). Players of more conventional instruments get a technique workout, exploiting a colourful range of voices. The writing is always controlled and balanced, whether the movement calls for wild intensity or sweet subtlety. I'm converted.


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