The rafters were raised Sunday afternoon at Central Lutheran Church when the Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra and the Minnesota Chorale tackled Mahler’s massive Symphony No. 2 (“Resurrection”). The 100-plus member orchestra and its conductor, William Schrickel, gave a taut and meaningful performance of the 90-minute work.
Mahler modeled the symphony, with its choral finale, after Beethoven’s Ninth, but it was a radical work at the time. When Mahler played the Funeral Rite from the first movement to his “friend,” Hans von Bülow, one of the most renowned conductors of the age, Von Bülow said, “If this is still music then I do not understand a single thing about music.” To contemporary ears, it is a work of intense nobility.
Rather than focusing the Funeral Rite on an individual being buried, Mahler asks more profoundly about the meaning of life itself. Schrickel shaped the long movement to give that question a gripping emotional life. The calamitous climax lacked the last degree of “ferocity” that Mahler called for, but it was still an impressive sound.
The orchestra was not only able to play loud, but with great delicacy, as well. The waltz melody at the start of the second movement had a clean simplicity, as did the folk song that formed the basis of the fourth. Alto Clara Osowski sang it with the naturalness that was required. She and soprano Rachel Daddio sang triumphantly in the finale, Daddio’s soprano soaring angelically.
Mahler agonized for months about the text to use for the finale. Ironically, it was at Von Bülow’s funeral that the idea for the text — an ode by late-18th-century German poet Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock — struck him and he was able to complete the work.
Schrickel successfully shaped the symphony so that the final movement sounded like the resolution to the first. The orchestra was rapturous as it suggested Judgment Day (offstage horns made a nice effect) and salvation (the Minnesota Chorale sang ethereally). The combined forces brought the work to a resounding and transformative conclusion.
No one would mistake the volunteer MSO for the Minnesota Orchestra. There were a few missed entrances and occasional intonation problems, but there was not as much disparity as one might think. For any orchestra to tackle such a monumental work is no mean feat, and the results here were most satisfying.
William Randall Beard writes about music and theater.