The sheer numbers were impressive. It’s not often you get to see the Gaillard stage filled edge to edge and feel the wide-open hall vibrate with such a big sound.
Leave it to Gustav Mahler to write a symphony that requires two sets of timpani, two harps, four trombones, eight trumpets, nine horns, robust winds and percussion and nearly 50 strings.
Oh, and did I mention the organ? The off-stage brass? The two solo singers? The huge chorus?
The occasion was Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 in C minor, the “Resurrection,” featuring a confident Daniel Hege on the podium, soprano Jill Terhaar Lewis, mezzo-soprano Jennifer Luiken, the CSO Chorus and the College of Charleston Concert Choir prepared by Rob Taylor.
It was courageous (both musically and logistically) of the recently resurrected Charleston Symphony, with its core of 24, to tackle this monster, and I confess I was a little worried that a freshly assembled ensemble consisting of many musicians who don’t play together consistently would fail to make the music gel and pack Mahler’s requisite emotional punch.
Well, the team pulled it off. It all began with an allegro maestoso featuring lots of give and take between strings and brass, with the winds and percussion adding their critical textures.
It felt a little like the musicians were being reacquainted with one another after rehearsals. They were perhaps too worried about playing the notes on the page and keeping things together (which they did rather well) to permit themselves to delve into the contradictory significance of the music.
But then they let go. The andante, which had a chamber music feel, was a charmer, full of pluck (literally) and grace. Hege set down the baton and conducted with his bare hands, which lent a welcomed immediacy to the proceedings.
The third movement, “In quietly flowing motion,” was an evocative, sometimes tempestuous ride featuring Mahler’s typical mood swings, lilting melodies and bold bursts of brass.
Luiken sang her Urlicht (“Primal Light”) gorgeously, those Romantic lines soaring to the heavens.
And the finale, a scherzo of the apocalyptic kind, showed off the chorus and soloists to beautiful effect.
An admirable finesse and glow dominated, along with pain and longing, culminating in bursts of blissful exuberance.
Reach Adam Parker at 937-5902.