Carlos Paita gambled last night in his debut with the National Symphony Orchestra. He chose to introduce himself with a single work, the Ninth Symphony of Gustav Mahler, music that can last nearly an hour and a half, though it did not last night. The Argentine conductor's success would have been greater had he taken at least five minutes more to allow the mighty greeting to death to unfold in broader fashion.
Much of the reading was persuasive and the orchestra's response often immediate and strong. The first movement of the symphony is filled with moments of fragility that require special strength from each player to sustain the requisite sound and texture. The playing was not fully settled until the work was well under way; but once a high plateau was reached, the orchestra went from strength to strength.
Paita guided the musicians subtly through the bittersweet modulations that affect the harmonic scheme and the music's immense dynamic range. The shattering climaxes that brought Mahler to terms with death, which he was to face at 50, were built with a sure hand.
In the finale, Paita overrode Mahler's clear marking not only of adagio, but also the "holding back." He took precisely the opposite route, moving the music forward in a way that prevented anything like its full realization. But the orchestral playing in this movement was magnificent to a degree not suggested earlier.
The symphony will be repeated tomorrow, Friday, and Sunday.