Friday, September 23, 2011
SF Symphony's Magnificent Mahler Third
Even by Mahler's expansive standards, his 1902 Third Symphony is a gargantuan, overstuffed spectacle with six movements that span over ninety minutes, performed by an enormous orchestra, a mezzo-soprano soloist (Katarina Karneus below left) and a huge women's and girl's chorus.
The last couple of Mahler performances of Symphonies #2 and #5 I have heard conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas above were disappointing. There were sections of the large symphonies that were spun out and played beautifully while at the same time there wasn't much coherence overall, so I went to Wednesday's opening performance of the Mahler Third without many expectations.
The performance turned out to be stunning, majestic, and eccentric all at the same time, and even though the supposedly ninety-minute piece clocked in at just under two hours, the long performance somehow never dragged. It felt like we were hearing it for the first time.
The chorus sat in the center terrace for the entire performance even though they only sang for about five to ten minutes, but it was pleasing just to watch them in expectation. The two chorus directors, Ragnar Bohlin of the SF Symphony and the recently ousted Susan McMane of the San Francisco Girls Chorus did a great job, and the "Ding Dong" chorus (not to be confused with the "Wizard of Oz" version) was flawless.
All the soloists within the orchestra stepped it up a notch, including principal trumpet Mark Inouye above, who sneaked out of the orchestra in the middle of the performance to a corridor behind the center terrace section where he played one of the most beautiful solos ever heard in Davies Hall. It was a special evening.