Marin Alsop, BSO open season with Mahler's epic 'Resurrection' Symphony
In the space of roughly 80 minutes, the music takes the willing listener from dark places, where suffering and death hover, into sunlit vistas, only to plunge again into even more grave-like depths.
Finally, after cataclysmic outbursts, tortured reflections and almost palpable pain, Mahler offers a mesmerizing, humbling glimpse of "a light that no eye has yet fathomed." In a magical effect, that light is gently spread by a chorus entering pianissimo to sing about how, after a short rest, we shall all rise again.
Whether one embraces that message or not, it is impossible to miss the monumental nature of this work from 1894, which reflects in every possible way the composer's belief that a symphony should encompass a whole world. And in a good performance, it is impossible not to be absorbed in -- and difficult not to be moved by -- the musical drama.
The BSO has done well by the "Resurrection" Symphony over the past decade or so. Former BSO music director Yuri Temirkanov opened (in 2000) and closed (in 2006) his tenure with the piece. His successor, Marin Alsop, who has conducted several Mahler symphonies since taking the helm in 2007, is offering her first local performance of the Second in this week's concerts.
On Thursday night at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, she led ...
an ultimately rewarding account of the score. It missed the kind of soulful depths that Temirkanov tapped into, but Alsop's interpretation had its own integrity and expressive force (and a level of orchestral discipline that Temirkanov did not exact.)
The long, eventful first movement needed a lot more fire and weight in places, but the second movement was gorgeously shaped and shaded; Alsop was admirably flexible in matters of tempo, attentive to subtle shifts in dynamics. She drew exquisite playing from the strings here.
The Scherzo was delivered with a good deal of bite. The ensuing "Urlicht" movement bathed the hall in a wonderful glow, thanks to the lush tone and poignant phrasing of mezzo Susan Platts.
Alsop held the sprawling finale together (a little too tightly sometimes) and had the orchestra producing considerable sonic power. The Baltimore Choral Arts Society was in peak form, from the hushed opening lines to the climactic peaks. Platts and soprano Layla Claire eloquently added their solo voices to the mix.
Although Alsop allowed the vocal phrases room to breathe and build mightily, the intensity level sagged a bit in the orchestral coda; the last notes lacked a truly visceral impact.
Still, all in all, a worthy account of one of the glories of the symphonic literature.
Some in Thursday's audience were not so worthy. Several folks wandered out at will while the music was in full bloom (one guy left about two minutes before the end, only to walk back in for the last 30 seconds -- what did he do, go out and spit?).
The worst offender, though, was the woman right in front of me who squirmed and fussed, kept digging something out of a noisy plastic bag, and, sure enough, started to talk once the chorus started to sing. I've known four-year-olds who could behave better at concerts. Geesh.
You know, it's pretty hard to concentrate on resurrection when you're thinking about murder.
PHOTO OF MARIN ALSOP COURTESY OF BSO; SUSAN PLATTS COURTESY OF MATTHEWSPRIZZO.COM