Mahler Reaches Appropriate Heights Under Kalmar's Baton
August 22, 2010
The "Resurrection" also began the relationship between Carlos Kalmar and the Grant Park Orchestra that led him to become principal conductor of the summer music festival.
Gustav Mahler's Second Symphony, the "Resurrection," is the most surefire of his major works. Its 80 minutes of music for large orchestra, chorus and two vocal soloists bring together theater and philosophy in a vision so overpowering that its impact sweeps us along even in less than ideal conditions.
Musicians as different in temperament as Georg Solti, Pierre Boulez, Bernard Haitink and Zdenek Macal have had success with the symphony in Chicago. The "Resurrection" also began the relationship between Carlos Kalmar and the Grant Park Orchestra that led him to become principal conductor of the summer music festival.
Friday night at Millennium Park, Kalmar closed his 10th anniversary season by revisiting the symphony, and it worked its magic once more. Despite sirens, applause in the middle of movements and notable burbles from the orchestra's brass, the "Resurrection" unfolded with thrilling spectacle, as part of celebrations observing the 150th anniversary of the composer's birth.
It was more difficult to bring off Mahler's abstract Ninth Symphony, as Kalmar did with passion and inward feeling last year. But that was not to take away from his account of the programmatic Second. If it lacked the ultimate in theatrical expression and sonic weight, Kalmar's performance had all the emphasis in the right places to achieve unimpeded ascent. Everything moved unsentimentally but not hastily toward a beautifully controlled statement by the chorus of Friedrich Klopstock's ode that gave the symphony its name.
There was little lingering along the way. Only once, in the last movement's "Dies Irae" chorale preceding the march of the dead, did Kalmar rhetorically hold back. Otherwise, strong and lyrical moments alike were part of an easy flow. But easy did not mean plain. The "funeral rites" of the first movement had their own vivid color, just as the charming and ironic interludes that followed had theirs, even if the latter would have benefited from a sharper point.
Of the soloists, the darker female voice has the most rapt music. Mezzo-soprano Allyson McHardy conveyed it with fine tone and interior expression. The lighter voice picks up some of the same music, though her role is rarely apart from the chorus, which soprano Karina Gauvin stirringly emerged from and compellingly soared above.
Alan Artner, Chicago Tribune