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MSO: Mahler's "Resurrection" Symphony
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Program
Mahler: Symphony No. 2 in C Minor, "Resurrection"

Performers
Madison Symphony Orchestra
Madison Symphony Chorus
Kimberly Jones, soprano
Kitt Reuter-Foss, mezzo-soprano
John DeMain, conductor

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After so many great successes, it's hard to find an adequate superlative with which to summarize the Madison Symphony Orchestra's concerts capping the current season, two triumphal performances of Mahler's titanic "Resurrection" Symphony. In what seemed a major miracle Maestro John DeMain deftly melded together two soprano soloists, the 140-member symphony chorus and a greatly augmented orchestra of 100 players in an uninterrupted 85-minute work whose five movements encompass virtually countless moods, colors, and climaxes, as well as extraordinary shifts of tempo and dynamics. As though the extreme difficulty of the individual parts and the near-impossible task of unifying them in a coherent whole weren't enough of a challenge, realizing the work must also encompass a complicated program of philosophical and religious content on no less a scale than the ultimate meaning of our human existence.

The central idea is that we are born to die, and that after revisiting the feelings and activities that precede this departure from mundane life, the real essence of humanity is finally revealed in resurrection and union with the One and All. Accordingly, the work begins with an extended funeral march followed by a long silence -- an interval for resetting our spiritual clocks -- and continues with more worldly music expressing the beauties of nature and temporal life. Only after the apocalyptic Day of Judgment are we ready to be reborn, a transformation resting on text intoned by soloists and chorus: "Be ready to live!"

I attended both Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon performances, each played to a full house. I'll admit expecting in advance, despite all the massive difficulties of presenting such a work, that it would establish a new level of accomplishment for the MSO and for DeMain. It's hardly possible to achieve a true critical detachment so soon after such stupendous performances. The scope of the undertaking, the incredible complexity of the thematic, harmonic, rhythmic and orchestrational materials, and above all the evocative power of the work's closing movement, all conspire to overwhelm the listener, to submerge us in the work's own cosmos. Even detailed study of the score, which I'd been doing for weeks, did not prevent my being swept along by the sheer force of the piece. I came away from both performances barely able to speak; in the root sense of the word, it was awesome.

I cannot praise the players of the orchestra highly enough: there was an attention to detail, a precision and delicacy in their playing surpassing anything I've yet heard from them. The two soloists, mezzo Kitt Reuter-Foss and soprano Kimberly Jones, surpassed on Sunday their already beautiful performances of the night before. The chorus was also more relaxed for the second performance. Everything was somewhat more taut and controlled Saturday evening. While the Sunday matinee did exhibit some missed entrances, I felt it was a fair trade-off for that performance's greater lyricism, especially in extremely soft playing (ppppp, a very rare marking). Forced to reserve its applause until the end, both audiences erupted in an instant standing ovation, with whoops, cheers, and repeated shouts of "Bravo!" Once again, what DeMain has wrought here in his two seasons points straight ahead to steadily rising achievement. Where some might expect exhaustion, there is already enthusiasm: a friend remarked as we left the Oscar Mayer Theatre on Sunday, "I can't wait to hear what they will do with the Third!" Next season in Madison.

Isthmus, May, 1996
Copyright 1996 Jess Anderson




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