The renowned Czech Philharmonic Orchestra brought Gustav Mahler’s mighty Fifth Symphony to the Arlington Theatre last week, under the baton of principal guest conductor Leoš Svárovský, courtesy of the Community Arts Music Association.
The sight — and sound — of this orchestra’s brilliant cello players rapping their bows smartly on their instruments during the second movement brought home to an enthusiastic audience just how stirring Mahler can be. No one ever accused the composer of small-mindedness, and the Fifth is ample testimony to the mighty themes he created.
According to the program notes, Mahler’s protege, Bruno Walter, wrote of Mahler’s Fifth, “It is music, passionate, wild, pathetic, buoyant, solemn, tender, full of all the sentiments of which the human heart is capable, but still ‘only’ music, and no metaphysical questioning, not even from the very far off, interferes with its purely musical course.”
That may be, but I, along with other music journalists, have noted Mahler’s other-worldly, spiritual overtones. Especially in his symphonies, Mahler was “modern” enough to express some abstract musical voices that foreshadowed Europe’s trial by the fires of World Wars I and II. Since Mahler died in 1911, his music does seem at times to be a genuine presentiment of the havoc to come.
Before the Mahler, which occupied the entire second half of the concert, the Czechs played Symphony No. 1 of Bohuslav Martinu. Born in East Bohemia, Martinu made his way to the United States in 1940, just as World War II was gathering steam in his homeland.
Martinu’s First Symphony was commissioned in 1942 by the Koussevitsky Musical Foundation of Boston. Here is a prime example of the rich legacy brought to the United States by gifted emigres fleeing the Nazi conquest of most of Europe. The Czech Philharmonic did full justice to the swirling first section, and the sweet and bright themes of the remainder.
A vote of thanks must go to CAMA for bringing such international fare to Santa Barbara.