We finished the first movement, alas with some holes—illness, thesis, exhaustion. But finish it we did, and even got about 2/3 of the way through the very tough, chamber music-like second. The challenge for the strings here is to get the right color—“What the Flowers in the Meadow Tell Me” being the title, it must be transparent, delicious, like perfume. It requires that the touch on the string with the bow be exceedingly light, and that the tone not be too concentrated. (Sort of like concocting the perfect light sauce.) The Italian term for this bow technique is flautando, or floating. It also helps to play with bow a little farther out on the string, over the fingerboard. Mahler even instructs this specifically, with the German term am Griffbrett.
But happily, the ensemble started to really jell, and the sudden shifts in mood worked. With nothing but respect for the two PUOs that played this symphony before, this one has some chops and ensemble skills that I haven’t seen before.