If Mahler had lived a century later he might well have ended his conducting career in Tokyo rather than New York. In recent decades no country has been more Mahler-mad than Japan, but that mania has largely been fuelled by the recordings and tours of European and American orchestras.
Now the flow has been reversed. The NHK Symphony Orchestra from Tokyo is touring Europe with its music director, Paavo Järvi, and its main calling card is Mahler’s tempestuous and doom-laden Sixth Symphony … as this epic work progressed I became engrossed, first by Järvi’s unswerving emphasis on momentum and second by the accentuation of extreme contrasts of dynamics rather than subtle variations of timbre. That may sound unsophisticated, but in the life-and-death tumult of the finale — where a flamboyant percussionist turned the two ear-splitting hammer-strokes into a new form of martial art — the direct, almost violent clash of opposites really paid off. The ending was stunningly dramatic.