New York Philharmonic – Jaap van Zweden conducts Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony

Mahler
Symphony No.2 (Resurrection)

Hanna-Elisabeth Müller (soprano) & Ekaterina Gubanova (mezzo-soprano)

New York Philharmonic Chorus

New York Philharmonic
Jaap van Zweden


Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 6 June, 2024
Venue: Wu Tsai Theater, David Geffen Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City

For his final concert program as New York Philharmonic Music Director, Jaap van Zweden led a sturdy, accurate and well-balanced reading of Mahler’s Symphony No.2, customarily referred to (though not by the composer) as the ‘Resurrection’ Symphony. This was the orchestra’s first performance of the work since one led by Alan Gilbert in September 2011 in commemoration of the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Scored for vocal soloists, choir, two offstage bands, church-style bells, organ, and the largest brass section in Mahler’s oeuvre, the psychophysical punch of the complex composition renders it especially difficult to conduct. Van Zweden, however, abstained from expressive indulgence and elicited an aptly dramatic account that highlighted the inherent optimism of the opus and its many moments of heavenly lyricism.

From the ominous violin tremolo in the opening movement and the voicing of the main theme by oboes and English horn, the sound was robust and full-bodied. The high strings in the heart-rending second theme, lovely but restrained in its introduction, fully blossomed on its reprise. The high point of the ensuing movement was the closing section, with its whispered restatement of the graceful minuet melody by pizzicato strings. The bumptious and waddling third movement flew by, enhanced by superb woodwind playing, especially Anthony McGill’s bright and piquant contributions on the clarinet. But the music really took off in the fourth movement, Ekaterina Gubanova displaying her rich mezzo in the sensitively delivered ‘Urlicht’ (Primal Light), admirably sustaining Mahler’s setting of folk poetry from Des Knaben Wunderhorn.

In the apocalyptic final movement, the hundred-strong New York Philharmonic Chorus, scrupulously prepared by Director Malcolm J. Merriweather, delivered its ultra-pianissimo entry with heart-stirring intensity and meticulous intonation before making its final proclamation of triumphant rebirth and eternal life in a tsunami of glorious sound. Hanna-Elisabeth Müller’s radiant soprano floated freely and then blended with Gubanova’s deeper sound as the music climbed toward its breathtaking conclusion and van Zweden seamlessly managed the contrasting elements. Through it all, the playing was exceptional, in particular percussion and brass, who furnished all the requisite brilliance and spectacle in the majestic coda.

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