Mahler's Symphony No. 9 is filled with land mines: a first movement that ranges from the softest chamber-music textures to sonorous declamations by full orchestra; two succeeding fast movements filled with tricky changes in mood and with humor that ranges from the wry to the grotesque; and a slow final movement whose pace must be sustained and steady without ever boring the listener.
It was with this work that David Zinman and the Baltimore Symphony chose to open their season last night in Meyerhoff Hall. The orchestra had not played this piece since Sergiu Comissiona's final concert as music director nearly a decade ago, but it was clear from the very beginning that the technical challenges of the piece were well within hand of this conductor and orchestra.
This is a piece that means a great deal to the BSO's music director. He conducted it in Rochester during his years as the music director of that city's philharmonic, and he's called the Ninth his favorite among the Mahler symphonies. His love of the piece showed last night in the attention he lavished upon details -- in the the exquisite textures and the well-balanced blasts from the full orchestra. This care also evinced itself in his placing the first and second violins on opposite sides of the stage so that the strands of the symphony's rich polyphony could be properly rTC illuminated. And such moments as the celestially quiet close of the first movement were conveyed with masterly control.