Review: ‘Resurrection’ resurrected

From Incident Light

By Mike Greenberg

As a general rule, it would be difficult for an orchestra to justify another performance of Gustav Mahler’s vast Symphony No. 2, “Resurrection,” after only five years – especially with the Seventh, Eighth, and Tenth still waiting – but the San Antonio Symphony does have some good reasons to revisit the work.

After an 18-year absence, the Mahler Second was the main item on the orchestra’s first subscription concert in the new Tobin Center. The acousticians still had some fine tuning to do on the hall, and the musicians and music director Sebastian Lang-Lessing needed a few months of experimentation to take full advantage of what turned out to be superb acoustics. So, in a sense, the 2014 performance was a rehearsal for this season’s reprise, on Sept. 20.

The enormous final movement runs to glorious (some might dispute that adjective) excess – the chorus and vocal soloists; the quartet of horns situated in the balcony, in addition to the six onstage; the offstage band; the triple-forte full-orchestra climaxes that would make an AC/DC concert seem a dainty frolic; and, just when you think the aural spectacle has reached its zenith, the entrance of the full (electronic) organ, followed by elephants, helicopters, and a Trump campaign rally. (OK, I’m making some of that up, but just barely.)

Mr. Lang-Lessing has had five years to simmer his interpretation of the Second – another good reason for a revisit. The 2014 performance was vividly theatrical, coherent, and compelling. The reprise was all that, but the details indicated much additional time and thought spent in the woodshed. Maximally effective contrasts in dynamics and tempo seemed based on deep study of the score. Some breathtakingly fast passages mitigated the massiveness of the orchestration, made it seem more like the cracking of a whip than a cannon fire. The graceful second movement glided on long, seamless lines. Some passages took on an extra layer of meaning. It was still a spectacle, but more than that.

Read the full review.