Ending Mahler's Ninth on a high

Liverpool reached the end of its Mahler cycle on Thursday night with a ninth symphony so taut and thoughtful that its dying fadeout felt more like a climax than a slipping away.

Vasily Petrenko has magnetised the city and its orchestra more than any conductor since Libor Pesek in the 1980s and the turnout, in a filthy Atlantic gale, filled the house and more. My own seat turned out to be double-booked. This was a night to remember.

The opening movement was oddly hesitant, the heartbeat uncertain. The ensuing Ländler took a few moments to find bucolic warmth. But the concentration throughout the house was absolute; I have seldom heard fewer coughs in a December audience, none at all once the drama took hold. Orchestra  and audience were at one in wanting to find out how the story would end.

The Rondo Burleske was an object lesson in controlled fury, the helplessness of humanity against its ultimate fate, and the finale amplified the tension with a pregnant question – resistance, or resignation? There were ten full seconds of silence before the conductor dropped his hands and the applause raised the roof.

The Phil in Liverpool just get better and better. James Clark’s concertmaster solos in the finale were sweet with strong yearnings; Jonathan Aasgard drove the cellos with intense determination. It would be unfair to name any of the woodwind or brass; all were top class (oh, all right then: Katherine Lacy depped brilliantly on clarinet).

This orchestra is going places and Petrenko  (photo (c) Mark McNulty) is going nowhere: he’ s signed up for another three years, at least. The Boston Symphony Orchestra, if they’re as keen as reported, will have a long while to wait.

Nor is Vasily finished with Mahler. A chat over a pint from the Liverpool Organic Brewery,  the concert sponsors, touched on plans for more next season and beyond. Can’t wait.

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