What do Weill and Mahler have in common? Both spent a period in New York, but Mahler's was a short flourish whilst Weill's was a entire creative period in flight from Hitler's Germany. Both were Austro-German Jews, but the extent to which this heritage influenced their respective musical approaches is always debatable.

But not quite. More compellingly, both were musical kleptomaniacs who incorporated diffuse genres into episodic scores. "Music must be like the world," remarked Mahler to Sibelius. "It must embrace everything." As an exponent of Gebrauchsmusik – the theory that all music has a value – Weill's musical embrace was similarly broad, with influences stretching from German Romanticism to Broadway to jazz. In a concert uniting works from Weill and Mahler, the stage lit up under the open-armed charisma of Texan conductor John Axelrod.

John Axelrod © Véronique Jourdain Artists Management
John Axelrod
© Véronique Jourdain Artists Management

Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny, Weill and Brecht's capitalist critique in a satirical opera, tells the story of fugitive criminals who found Mahagonny, the city of gold. Wilhelm Brückner-Rüggeberg's 1968 orchestration of the Suite covers the whole gamut of the work's eclecticism, which the orchestra brought to life with playing that was accurate and resolute. Strings scampered to acerbic brass licks and sarcastic goose steps in the pre-Shostakovich style opening. There was grace and swoon for the second movement's "Alabama Song", and jazz hand bloom from the violins in the third movement's foxtrot. When the music found its cool, Axelrod loosened with a podium jive. But tautness was never compromised when the music reached its apocalyptic culmination, the orchestra wailing as Mahagonny burned to score of shrieking brass and rapping snare. 

Prefacing the Mahler with the Weill made architectural sense; the memory of that snapping death march lingered after the interval. Regardless, nothing could have prepared us for the savage interpretation of the Trauermarsch that would open Mahler's Symphony no. 5. The solitary solo trumpet whipped into a shuddering palpitations. The long pauses between the outbursts echoed our sense of breathlessness. Far from introspective respite, the elegiac cello motif that emerged was rich and viscous, Axelrod stoking the sound with thick, heavy beats. 

Axelrod has strong links with Leonard Bernstein who became his conducting teacher after the two met, of all places, at the Gay Men's Chorus of Texas pool party in Houston. (Axelrod apparently went to great measures to secure an invite in his desperation to meet his hero.) "You can't exaggerate Mahler enough!", Bernstein once said, and Axelrod seems to share this predilection for the capacious. There were soupy rallentandi causing the music to heave at the seams. Dogged beats prising maximum detail, a fecund sound driven to excess. Not unlike Bernstein, the conductor's performance borders on theatrical: when the fire and brimstone in the second movement's development section fizzles to nothing, Axelrod confronted the audience side on, conjuring the cellos' agonising second theme in a slow bloom. Time stood still. 

Perhaps inevitably, slips and blotches infiltrated this ardent display. Yet when playing displayed such personality, split notes alone were hardly cause for split hairs. The Scherzo's Länder oozed with life. The Viennese Waltz that followed slowed to a cinder, before it waxed, waned and spiralled in mid-air. When the second Trio collapsed into smouldering strings, we entered an Alpine forest, where chirruping, trickling winds brought us slowly back to the Waltz. This portion of the Trio had opened with a finely crafted solo horn. That the brass section had managed to maintain their form after such taxing contributions in the Weill and preceding Mahler was truly praiseworthy. 

The full-bodied style was carried over into the famous Adagietto. Coalescing harp and strings surged to a heart-throbbing climax. The Rondo-Finale commenced before the last note of the Adagietto had barely dissolved. This was the only moment where the orchestra exceeded its limits, the tapestry fraying slightly as the playing was pushed out of time. The performance thrilled regardless, and Axelrod capped the proceedings with a flamboyant flourish.

This was raw Mahler at its most all-embracing. The musicians seemed to embrace the entire world. As an audience member made to leave the hall, Axelrod leant over the balustrade to shake his hand.