United States Mahler: Christine Brandes (soprano), Lucille Beer (contralto), Choruses, Canton Symphony Orchestra, Gerhardt Zimmermann (conductor), Umstattd Hall, Canton, Ohio, 4.11.2012
Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 2 in C minor, “Resurrection” (1894)
Looking back on the several years I’ve been reviewing the Canton Symphony Orchestra (CSO), I don’t recall a concert (other than an opera) with just a single work. This evening featured Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 in C minor, “Resurrection,” a stand-alone piece if there ever were one.In his introductory comments, Maestro Gerhardt Zimmermann reverently reminded a packed Umstattd Hall that the evening was dedicated to the memory of Rachel Renkert (1938-2007), a beloved, seminal force in forming the CSO into the vibrant organization it is today. The Mahler was her favorite symphonic work.
Zimmermann also asked that we hear the piece as a total unit and to withhold our applause after the long first movement (which was followed by an intermission). Obliging his request was difficult. With electrifying, soul-rattling success, the orchestra had just delivered Mahler’s outrage at the inevitability of death—one of those classically cathartic encounters that could cause one to approach total strangers, shake them unapologetically by the shoulders, and gush, “Do you believe what we just heard!?” And that was only the beginning.
After the intermission, Zimmermann continued his wondrously compelling rendition of this intense probing of humanity’s most perplexing existential questions. In the Andante’s achingly graceful remembrance of life’s fleeting joys, the flawless, gently muted plucking of strings was mesmerizing. In the Scherzo, the mood became subtly wicked as the orchestra played a bizarre waltz, effectively conveying frustration with the meaningless drudgeries of everyday life. Then, with lustrous, haunting tones,guest soloist Lucille Beer delivered a return to godly faith in the fourth movement “Urlicht” (“Primal Light”).
The soaring, crystalline soprano of Christine Brandes made the choral finale of the fifth movement – Mahler’sultimate embrace of hope – all the more radiant. The hushed beginning swelled into a magnificently sonorous declaration powered by the combined forces (around 200 voices) of five local groups: Canton Symphony Chorus, Malone University Chorale, University of Mount Union Concert Choir, Walsh University Chamber Choir and Wooster Chorus. Ye angels in the heavens, be jealous.
Throughout the evening, that ineffable unity of orchestral focus and purpose was remarkable—you simply know it when you hear and indeed see it. This is a monumental work, sprawling in emotional and ideological scope, replete with sumptuous crescendos and deafening orchestral blasts. They seemingly erupt from nothing and recede just as quickly into solemn, mystical whispers. All of the players appeared to be caught up—rapturously—in this sublimely embroidered aural tapestry.
In the end, I was left marveling at Mahler’s Promethean accomplishment. How could a mere mortal create a fiery phenomenon such as this? Likewise, CSO seems to have transcended itself, rising to spectacular new heights by rekindling Mahler’s impassioned vision of eternal life.