Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Oregon Symphony ends 2015-16 season with Mahler's grandiose 3rd Symphony

Carlos Kalmar
There's nothing for it like going out with a bang, and the Oregon Symphony chose do to that at its home venue the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall on Monday, May 23rd by presenting Gustav Mahler's Titanic Symphony No. 3 in D minor.   Accompanied by guest mezzo-soprano Susan Platts, the Women of the Portland State Chamber Choir and Vox Femina and the Pacific Youth Choir, there were at least 150 musicians on stage when all was said and done.

Opening with a subdued theme from the 9-voice horn choir and occasional alarming trumpet calls, the introduction to this long work gradually seeped out from the stage to overtake the hall. Striking glissandi from the low strings and a whisper-thin rumbling from the bass drum--more felt than heard--as the rest of the orchestra faded were satisfying to hear. Percussion sections are oft-overlooked (until they make a mistake) but the OSO is blessed to have an incredibly skilled and precise group--Monday night was no exception to the excellent work they've done all season.

Concert master Sarah Kwak played a marvelous pastoral solo during the introduction, and the trombone solo was equally arresting.  Often the strings felt too subsumed under the wall of sound presented by the gargantuan woodwind and brass section required by this piece--when it was tutti fortissimo all across the orchestra, the strings consistently took a beat or two longer to reach the proper dynamic--but it was a dynamic that was certainly within their ability--resulting in some weaker entrances (at least early in the work) than one would hope for.

Part two opened with a lush string serenade--the violins in fine fettle with all the swooning romanticism one could want. The gently quacking bassoon during the Mysterioso and the ghostly off-stage flugelhorn were nice treats to hear. Mic'ing the vocalists felt unnecessary from a volume perspective, but the concert was being recorded for broadcast so perhaps other considerations came into play. Both Platts and the choirs were excellent, with fine diction abounding. The long nocturne-like ending was carried off well by the strings, the melancholy interjections from the horn sounding bright and even lively despite the elegiac character of the finale.

And what a finale it was...the entire evening. This big, bold grand gesture of the late Romantic, the longest work in the standard repertoire (the evening clocked in at a bit under two hours without intermission)--what a fine gift from the OSO to the music-loving community. When else do you have an opportunity to hear 8 contrabasses, something like 30 violins, 9 horns, two harps, 60-some singers, etc--all going at the same time? A fine cap to maestro Carlos Kalmar for another a season well-done, and a reminder of how grateful the region at large is to have this fine ensemble.

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