We went right at the teeth of the hardest music in the symphony, the last three minutes of the 2nd movement, and the delicate passages in the third. Big and loud is always, always many times easier than soft and delicate. And when (as in the second movement) soft and delicate is comes with complex rhythms and little tempo shifts—well, that’s trouble. Mahler wrote the symphony over a three-year span in the middle 1890’s, and his language had not yet become densely chromatic (meaning dominated by half-steps) as it would later. The 3rd movement has a real folk-music flavor to it- simple, birdcall-like tunes. Mostly. But accompanying those little tweets are16th note string passages that have just enough half-steps and awkward intervals embedded in them to create real intonation problems. And it’s not like Strauss, with so many layers of notes piled on top that if something’s a little off, it can’t be heard. Mahler’s scoring is transparent. A minor finger slip = an audible “ouch!”
These movements will continue to be the most work, and there is some more time at the dentist to come. Everyone was gently reminded that there’s no getting around having to woodshed these movements, even at the busiest time of the year. Maybe that’s a good place to state, even as I prod the PUO members, that I am in constant awe of how they do all that they do, and do it so well. When that age, I wrote the book on being a slacker.