I was all set to begin this post with a little paean to serendipity. With one free night during my weekend pleasure jaunt to New York, I surveyed the field a couple of months ago and decided to spend the evening at Carnegie Hall, hearing James Levine lead the Boston Symphony Orchestra in Mahler's Ninth. Then the whole Levine thing happened, and there was the unknown (to me) Andris Nelsons taking over; and after that he swiftly went from unknown to the next hot new thing, and I couldn't believe my luck at being in the right place at the right time.
Yeah, well. I'm not in a position to tease out what was Nelsons, and what was the BSO, and what was presumably a shortage of rehearsal time, but Thursday's was not what I'd call a good performance of the Ninth. Others felt differently (there was tumultuous applause, and Big Marc Geelhoed, for one, nigh about wet his pants in delight) but to these ears the whole thing was a struggle and a disappointment. Nelsons often didn't do much to delineate the formal outlines of the piece (without which the first movement in particular can easily sound like just one damn thing after another); and when he did decide to mark a formal juncture, it was generally with an exaggerated ritard followed by a muddy entrance.
On no evidence at all, I'm going to chalk up some of the tentative Alphonse-and-Gaston footwork between Nelsons and the string players in the outer movements to lack of rehearsal, and give a pass to the technical infelicities elsewhere. But I'd still like to think that a conductor so extravagantly lauded could bring out the ironic wit of the Ländler a little more deftly, and make the finale sound really tragic rather than simply becalmed. Maybe next time.