Here is my review of the PSO performance of Mahler's Symphony No. 2 this past weekend at Heinz Hall. It again showed music director Manfred Honeck's affinity with Mahler. Below it is an impassioned response to the concert by an audience member.
Gustav Mahler asked profound questions in his Symphony No. 2. "Why have you lived? Why have you suffered?" And, "Is all of this a wild dream, or has life and death a meaning?"
A more pertinent question, so to speak, for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra is how it will perform the immense work in Vienna in two weeks as part of another prestigious European tour. That would be the Vienna on whose streets the composer once strolled. In the Great Hall of the Musikverein, that hub of Germanic art music. Oh, and recorded live for future release on disc.
If the PSO and music director Manfred Honeck can match the performance of the symphony known as the "Resurrection" that it offered Friday night at Heinz Hall, the answer is, That'll do. Yes, that'll do just fine.
The Mendelssohn Choir, which responded well to Mr. Honeck's conception of sound in Mahler, won't make the trip to Vienna. The renowned Singverein will take its place in the concerts Nov. 2 and 3.
It's difficult to remember exactly how Mr. Honeck directed Symphony No. 2 in 2009, but it seemed more streamlined.
The five-movement work has a large-scale ebb and flow that is difficult to manage. The conductor clearly had that in mind then and now, but Friday he folded its bold and contrasting sections into the work more than he had earlier. The offstage instruments were less distinct from the whole and the solos more part of the texture.
Mr. Honeck's emphasis on the drama of this work -- it opens with the funeral of a hero and follows the journey of his soul to blissful attainment -- was still there. But when an offstage instrument or a haunting solo by trombone player Peter Sullivan, English horn player Harold Smoliar, or singers Amelia D'Arcy and Gerhild Romberger took place, they served a single purpose rather than sticking out.
But one element did stand out to me -- the glimmering polish of the violins, especially the country dance in the second movement when Mr. Honeck called on them to mimic the zither. Urged on by concertmaster Noah Bendix-Balgley, the playing was impossibly smooth and unaffected.
Yes, that'll do just fine.
By Juliane Schicker
I almost wanted to write "Last night, I saw Mahler conduct," but that would not have been true. Last night, I saw Maestro Manfred Honeck conduct Mahler's Second Symphony - and the Resurrection was a revelation! The first movement started off with a physical outburst of Honeck, shaking the orchestra with his emotions. And how the players took those in - the violins let their bows melt into the strings, the horns combined their breaths to one soaring sound. A grandiose volume shook Heinz Hall, then decreased into the most intense triple piano I have ever heard on stage, and finally returned to the powerful main theme again, never losing its force. Then, Honeck let the choir and soloists in - what a mahleresque idea - so that the first and second movement had their break of about five minutes that the composer asked for. The singers took their seats and joined the audience in watching the second movement's dance. First inside the ballroom, the audience was soon transported into!
nature - to hear the band from afar. Mahler would have been proud of the ensemble that played from behind the stage - a marching band from a distance. The third movement took over and the listeners could hear the fish swimming and the birds chirping in many beautiful entries of the strings and flutes. Maestro Honeck took some parts slower than what Mahler-addicts may be used to, but these decisions just made the listener more aware of what was going on in front of them. And how they had to turn their heads and ears when the alto solo set in for "Urlicht." Gerhild Romberger's timbre moved under everyone's skin and reached the deepest spot in our souls. Her expression and dedication to tone and emotion had everyone in its spell and was shaped through Amelia D'Arcy's soaring soprano. The final movement ripped everyone out of their seats, and just as that thundering explosion of sound took over the hall, a bassoon player opened a side stage door, stared at the orchestra with !
mephistophelesque eyes and took his seat on stage. What a practical, but, even more, evocative decision. At that moment, the choir rose and it was clear - we cannot escape our destiny: the living-through of a lightning bolt of music was about to set our blood on fire. Starting in the far end of the sky, a humming "Aufersteh'n" vibrated in the air. The anticipation of articulating what the instruments had been nurturing inside them for the last 80 minutes was almost unbearable. Honeck dug up all frightening experiences, all fears and horrors, and he let them erupt in front of a sold-out hall, ears and eyes of the audience fixated on the stage. Every note exploded just to return more pressing: "Sterben werd' ich um zu leben!" I stopped counting the curtain calls, but they were worthy of a Mahler in his best conducting days. Last night, we were taken and we ascended - to a place where Mahler would have said: "Wonderful, but can the Timpani be even louder, please?"