|Swedish soprano Malin Christensson|
Everything points up to the finale, "The Heavenly Life," with its text from "Youth's Magic Horn," the collection of modified folk poetry that often inspired Mahler. As performed brightly by this weekend's soprano soloist, the finale made its gentle, unmistakable impact. Malin Christensson's voice had the glow and warmth required, and the naive description of heavenly affability and feasting amid eternal bliss suited her ingenuous expressive manner.
|Alexander Shelley made his ISO debut.|
Anxiety barges into the mostly serene third movement, the work's longest. It was during the ISO's masterly performance of it Saturday night that Mahler's resemblance to the American poet Walt Whitman struck me. Like Whitman, Mahler could have declared, "I am large, I contain multitudes"; he told Jan Sibelius that he thought a symphony should contain a world.
What people love about both artists — who, by the way, wrote their best work between their middle thirties and their middle forties — is the continual impress of a personality upon the material. Music is fortunate in that it can mask the personality's prominence; poetry that relentlessly expresses an individual keeps throwing the perpendicular pronoun into our faces.
The clarity and vividness of different instrumental lines was notable in the first movement, which featured a dramatic slowing of tempo near the end, just before an accelerating sweep to the final bar.
Philip Palermo's second violin (tuned unconventionally to give the effect of a tinny country fiddle) gave a credible Halloween inflection to the second movement.
In the finale, when St. Peter is depicted running to the pond to catch fish for St.Martha to cook, the mutual scurrying of soloist and orchestra wasn't as clearly synchronized as everything else seems to have been. And at first, Christenssen's German diction sounded cloudier than it had in Alban Berg's "Seven Early Songs," which preceded intermission.
Berg's devotion to his teacher, Arnold Schoenberg, was not so complete when he wrote this work that he eschewed the influence of the two giant Richards of Austro-German music: Wagner and Strauss. These lovely settings of German poems brought out the soloist's best work consistently, with Shelley sensitively guiding the accompaniment. Berg plays with the variety of ways a solo voice can interact with a large orchestra; there's a myriad of textural shifts, including brief solos, and a considerable dynamic range, especially in "Summer Days," the last song.
The concert opened with a version of Bartok's Romanian Dances, evocative works focused mainly on the strings, with some spotlighting here and there of clarinet, piccolo, and violin. The ISO's lively, high-definition account faltered only in the well-labeled "Fast Dance," but righted itself quickly — the pace at which this amusing set of dances concludes.