by Tom Wachunas

Looking backZIMMERMN-Gerhardt on the several years I’ve been reviewing performances by the Canton Symphony Orchestra, I don’t recall a concert (other than an opera) with just a single work on the program. The November 4 concert featured Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 in c minor (Resurrection), a stand-alone work if ever there was one. In his introductory comments, Maestro Gerhardt Zimmermann reverently reminded a very packed Umstattd Hall that the evening was dedicated to the memory of Rachel Renkert (1938-2007) — a beloved, seminal visionary in forming the CSO into the vibrant organization it is today. The Mahler was her favorite symphonic work.

Zimmermann also asked that we hear the work as a total, discreet unit and to withhold our applause after the long first movement, which was followed by an intermission. Obliging Zimmermann’s request was difficult. For the sheer soul-stirring drama of the orchestra’s electrifying performance was one of those classically cathartic encounters that could cause one to approach total strangers, shake them unapologetically by the shoulders, and gush, “Do you believe what we just heard!?” And that was only the beginning.

Following the gripping outrage at death which characterizes the first movement was a wondrously compelling performance of Mahler’s intense probing of humanity’s most perplexing existential questions. The flawless, gently muted plucking of strings was utterly mesmerizing in the achingly graceful remembrance of life’s fleeting joys described in the Andante movement. Then, in the Scherzo, the mood became subtly wicked as the orchestra rendered a bizarre waltz, effectively conveying frustration with the meaningless drudgeries of everyday life. With deeply lustrous, haunting tones, guest soloist Lucille Beer delivered a return to godly faith in her fourth movement contralto song, Urlicht (Primal Light). Fellow guest soloist Christine Brandes’s crystalline soprano voicings made the choral finale of the fifth movement – Mahler’s ultimate embrace of hope and resurrection – all the more radiant.

The solemn, hushed beginnings of the final choral movement swelled into a magnificent sonority. Its powerful, dramatic thrust was provided by the combined forces of five local choruses, numbering around 200 voices: the Canton Symphony Chorus, Malone University Chorale, University of Mount Union Concert Choir, and Wooster Chorus. Ye angels in the heavens, be jealous.

Particularly remarkable throughout the evening was that ineffable orchestral unity of focus and purpose. You simply know it when you hear and indeed see it. This is a monumental work, sprawling in emotional and ideological scope, replete with sumptuous crescendos and deafening orchestral blasts. They seemingly erupted from nothing and receded just as quickly into solemn, mystical whispers. All of the players appeared to be rapturously caught up in this sublimely embroidered aural tapestry.

In the end, I was left marveling at what could rightfully be called Mahler’s Promethean accomplishment. How could a mere mortal create a symphonic phenomenon such as this? Likewise, CSO seems to have transcended itself, ascending to spectacular new heights by triumphantly rekindling Mahler’s fiery vision of eternal life.

Published on ClevelandClassical.com November 6, 2012

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