Salt Lake Symphony, Utah Voices rise to the challenge of Mahler’s “Resurrection”

Fri May 17, 2019 at 1:59 pm
By Edward Reichel

Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 (“Resurrection” ) was performed by the Salt Lake Symphony Thursday night.

The Salt Lake Symphony’s annual collaboration with Utah Voices closed out its season Thursday night with a compelling performance of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, “Resurrection.”

The Second isn’t a work one would expect a community orchestra to play, but the Salt Lake Symphony roster contains some of the best freelance musicians in the area. And since Robert Baldwin has become its music director he has raised the bar considerably and elevated the performance standards of the ensemble to a professional level.

The same holds true for Utah Voices. Under the direction of Kelly DeHaan, the Utah Valley-based choir is one of the best vocal ensembles in the state. And in its homogeneous sound and well articulated and expressive delivery, it rivals Utah’s other well-known choral groups, including the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

The chorus gave a moving account of the last movement, singing with clarity, precision and keen sensitivity. They have the power to stand up to the full orchestra, while also possessing the necessary lyricism to convey the meaning of the words. The latter was especially true in the magnificent opening phrase “Aufersteh’n, ja aufersteh’n,” which they sang with the utmost beauty of expression.

The two vocal soloists were also in top form Thursday.

Soprano Melissa Heath, with her clear, sparkling voice, soared over the choir in the last movement. And mezzo-soprano Kirstin Chávez’s resonant and burnished voice brought depth and lyrical beauty to the fourth movement “Urlicht,” with the orchestra offering subtle and refined accompaniment.

In all of Mahler’s symphonies there are many contrasting, and at times seemingly unrelated, elements at play that can be a challenge to keep together, but Baldwin managed to bring cohesion to each of the five movements and create a seamless and fluid whole. He had everything under control and knew what he wanted from the score, conveying that convincingly to his musical forces, which, numbering around 250, filling the stage and choir loft of the hall.

The conductor’s tempo choices in the first movement were spot on, which allowed the themes to unfold at a leisurely speed. Baldwin never rushed anything, nor did he let his tempos drag. His reading captured the stately character of the opening section, while building some deliberately dramatic crescendi throughout the movement.

Baldwin gave a rather understated account of the slow second movement that was wonderfully lyrical and captured the serenity of the opening section well. The strings played with finely crafted lyricism, and Baldwin emphasized the expressiveness of the movement with cleanly defined phrasings.

The third movement has a folk-like, pastoral quality that gradually evolves into something more robust and driven. Baldwin captured all this with well-paced tempos that defined the rhythmic vitality and, by the end, bold gestures of the music.

The finale opens with a lengthy orchestral section that eventually presages the main theme of the choral section, as well as the overall message of the symphony as a whole. Mahler was a tormented soul who often mused over death in his music. And in the “Resurrection” the underlying theme is that one must die in order to live, in a greater philosophical sense, not just in the meaning of traditional Christianity.

Mahler makes that very clear in the music leading up to the chorus’ entrance in the finale. The music, going through various transformations, including a noble brass chorale, finally sounds a triumphal tone that the chorus picks up in its first phrase.

Baldwin gave these different elements cohesion, seamlessly moving from one to the other and ending in a powerful, dramatic close. He elicited precision and clearly defined, broadly drawn lines from his orchestra and kept balance between them and the chorus so neither was overpowered; each group stood out dynamically.

The Salt Lake Symphony’s next concert features music by Franck and Berlioz, and will take place 7:30 p.m. September 28 in Libby Gardner Concert Hall. saltlakesymphony.org


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