MAHLER CAN FEEL as endless and self-indulgent as a Russian novel. Under David Zinman Friday night, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra turned the composer's "Symphony No. 5 in C-Sharp Minor" (1904) into a series of Chekhov stories that were sad, lively and emotional (but with Germanic loudness never far away).
Friday night attention spans survived the Mahler marathon of 78 minutes just fine and the BSO was warmly applauded.
Don Tison, principal trumpet player, roused listeners immediately the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall with a sharp solo bugle call ushering in strings and the slow funeral cadence that yielded to total orchestral involvement in the first of five movements.
David Bakkegard, principal horn, added to the fanfare. Cellos and violas picked up the Mahler brooding in the second movement but the tempo and tone quickened into more mood swings. If listeners wanted a different Mahler mood, they usually needed to wait only a minute or two.
In turtleneck and without baton, Zinman seemed ready to dance off his platform in the pivotal scherzo movement of bright music Mahler finally summoned. The orchestra's bang-up ending to the third movement, prompting some premature applause, set up the dreamy harp and strings in the fourth movement Adagietto.
Visconti's film, "Death in Venice," used this music to describe the layers of sadness from the Thomas Mann novel. The BSO tied up the No. 5 package with strings, brass and woodwinds in a rousing finish.
Claude Frank and Lilian Kallir, husband and wife who have played a quarter century together and separately with much success, had an off-night Friday and disappointed in their unexciting version of Mozart's "Concerto for Two Pianos in E-Flat Major."
In particular, Frank's runs made Mozart fuzzy and indelicate and the two pianists produced different sets of sounds, hers neat and clear while his heavy and dull.
The mind's eye was not necessarily prepared by Friday's performance to picture Mozart and his sister, Nannerl, playing the piece he wrote for them in 1779 before leaving Salzburg.
Footnote: The great free cough drop experiment may be off to a good start to help keep the peace. Not many coughs were heard Friday. That and the weekend's long Mahler will help at 8:15 p.m. Thursday when the BSO performs a two-hour plus version of Berlioz' "The Damnation of Faust."