Neeme Järvi conducts Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’ Symphony in Chicago

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Mahler, Symphony No.2 in C minor, ‘Resurrection’: Mari Eriksmoen (soprano), Karen Cargill (mezzo-soprano), Chicago Symphony Chorus and Orchestra / Neeme Järvi (conductor). Symphony Center, Chicago, 24.5.2024. (JLZ)

Neeme Järvi conducts Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Mahler’s Symphony No.2 © Nuccio DiNuzzo

On this holiday weekend, it was a pleasure to hear the Chicago Symphony offer Mahler’s Second Symphony under the direction of Neeme Järvi. It was also a pleasure to find the house filled. Even more, the audience was receptive and enthusiastic, evident in the ecstatic outburst near the end of the first movement.

Järvi’s approach showed best in the first three movements, where he gave a solid reading of the score without resorting to sentimentality. His tempos were crisp, the balances refined to bring out contrapuntal passages with clarity, and the volume levels made use of the sudden changes and, when marked in the score, gradual shifts in intensity. The first movement had the rhythmic drive that the piece requires, and it was marked by the incisive style of the cellos and basses. Longer lyric lines in the woodwinds stood out for the careful intonation. Repeated figures in the strings had the requisite percussiveness to serve the score. The result was a powerful reading of this movement that brought out the sense of tragic loss that the composer intended to convey.

Järvi had a similar regard for detail in bringing out the lyric elements in the second movement. After the stormy conclusion of the first movement, the delicate opening passages of this one drew attention to the music. As the phrases grew longer, Järvi attended to the balances that allowed secondary voices to emerge clearly. Textures that are sometimes obscured were audible as the piece took shape with respect to the score and the acoustics of the hall.

As the music unfolded, Järvi continued to pay attention to details. For example, the pizzicato section later in the movement added to the timbral colors that Mahler brought into the score. Here the richness of a well-structured piano section refuted the composer’s comment disparaging the alfresco style of his early symphonies. In the hands of a masterful conductor like Järvi, the differentiated timbres that are part of the score made this performance compelling.

This is true for Järvi’s approach to the Scherzo. His tempos were a bit quicker than those of some other conductors, yet the result was entirely convincing in executing the perpetuum mobile accompaniment figures in the paraphrase of the song ‘Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt’. The woodwinds were particularly precise and clear in responding to Järvi’s direction. In the middle section, where Mahler quoted the Scherzo from his colleague Hans Rott’s Symphony in E major, the brass were less precise than elsewhere, and it may be the result of the tempos. As the movement continued, those problems ceased, and the Scherzo ended with the incisiveness Järvi gave the first movement.

These three movements set the stage for the last two, with the orchestral song ‘Urlicht’ offering textual and motivic cues for the Finale. Mezzo-soprano Karen Cargill gave shape to the phrasing of the song, but the performance would have benefitted from stronger diction in articulating the text which sets the tone for Mahler’s use of Klopstock’s ‘Auferstehen’ in the finale. But overall, the result was good, and the subtle lyricism of the song lingered in the moments of silence before the crashing opening of the last movement. For that ending, Järvi shaped each section from the instrumental passages at the opening to the choral ones that followed. The work’s logic took shape in the effective reading that Järvi gave this challenging score, as he led the forces with consummate style.

The Chicago Symphony Chorus demonstrated its expertise with well-voiced sonorities that supported the text, and this is due to James K. Bass, the guest choral conductor who prepared them. Soprano Mari Eriksmoen worked well with Karen Cargill in the duet passages. Exits and returns for the offstage passages were handled as discreetly as possible, and the expanded brass section added much. Most of all, the care that Järvi gave to the earlier movements was essential, and the result was a resoundingly effective, memorable performance.

James L. Zychowicz

Featured Image: Neeme Järvi conducts Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Mahler’s Symphony No.2 © Nuccio DiNuzzo

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