A review of Thursday night’s performance of Mahler’s Third Symphony, featuring mezzo-soprano Christianne Stotijn, Northwest Boychoir and the women of the Seattle Symphony Chorale.
The magnificence of the horns.
That was the foremost impression of Thursday night’s performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 at Benaroya Hall by the Seattle Symphony. Close after that came brash, brassy trumpets and authoritative trombones, each section playing as one instrument, smooth, superb and all the more noteworthy since each was augmented with freelance players to fulfil Mahler’s need for them — four extra horns and one each extra trumpet and trombone. Seattle has a large component of professional freelance musicians who rarely are lauded for their fine work for the symphony, but they deserved kudos Thursday, as did several among the winds as well.
The symphony itself is a grand, sweeping work, Mahler’s view of Nature in all her complexity. In his panoramic view, Mahler teeters close to overdoing it, not to mention overwhelming the audience, but Thursday’s audience appeared rapt through its hour-and-a-half, intermission-free presentation.
Seattle Symphony: Mahler’s Third
With Ludovic Morlot conducting, repeats 8 p.m. Saturday, June 20, Benaroya Hall, Seattle; tickets from $20 (206-215-4747 or seattlesymphony.org).
This was in no doubt due to SSO maestro Ludovic Morlot, who was in clear control of conveying the music and Mahler’s intention to the listeners. It did feel, though, as if the first part of the first movement took some time to jell as an entity. Morlot did a masterly job of bringing out the colors, the ebb and flow of the music, such as in the increasingly joyful march to summertime. Mahler did give a brief programmatic description of what he was writing about, and because of the symphony’s length, it was good to have a few hooks in Paul Schiavo’s program notes on which to hang the composer’s ideas while listening.
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The much shorter second movement showed off oboe principal Mary Lynch in a minuet, which was balm after the vastness of the first movement. The third, lively and dancelike, had a prolonged trumpet solo from principal David Gordon from far off stage.
The vocal component of the fourth and fifth movements added yet another component. Dutch mezzo-soprano Christianne Stotijn brought her rich voice to a setting of Friedrich Nietzsche’s “Midnight Song” in the fourth, in which both oboe and clarinet principals played tiny swooping upward runs, a technique one would think impossible on wind instruments but which they encompassed with apparent ease. Mahler included many violin solos, and the audience had the chance to hear concertmaster Alexander Velinzon’s sweet, rich sound in what was one of his last appearances here in that position (he returns to the Boston Symphony next season).
The fifth movement had the Northwest Boychoir sounding like bells and accompanying the women of the Seattle Symphony Chorale, and the symphony came to a triumphant end with a purely orchestral finale.
It was a distinct pleasure to hear this Mahler symphony. It is not often performed, as it takes such large forces, not to mention an excellent orchestra and first-class principals. (Among those who should also be mentioned for notable work: principal trombone Ko-Ichiro Yamamoto.)
Despite a few slightly ragged moments, the performance was a triumph for the Seattle Symphony and is repeated Saturday night.