Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

April 30, 2019

REVIEW: Springfield Symphony Orchestra, Mozart & Mahler 2

Springfield Symphony Orchestra, Springfield, MA
April 27, 2019
by Michael J. Moran

Kevin Rhodes
In his program book “Reflections” on this concert, SSO Music Director Kevin Rhodes called it the first of “two grand finales” for the orchestra’s 75th anniversary season, featuring two pieces concerned with “renewal, rebirth, and a communion with something greater than the self:” Mozart’s motet “Ave Verum Corpus” (“Hail True Body”) for chorus and orchestra; and Mahler’s second symphony, featuring soprano and mezzo-soprano soloists and chorus in the last two of its five movements.

After a spoken introduction to the program, Rhodes broke with tradition, first, by omitting an intermission, and, secondly, by moving without pause from the 4-minute motet into the 82-minute symphony, making Mozart a sort of overture to Mahler. While this quick transition may have confused some concertgoers (one could be heard whispering to another during Mahler’s second movement: “I’m not sure if this is Mozart or Mahler”), it powerfully reinforced the commonality of their themes.

Rhodes told the Springfield Republican that the 250 musicians onstage at Symphony Hall tonight were the largest ensemble he’d ever led there. All three choruses (the Springfield Symphony Chorus, prepared by Nikki Stoia, and the UMASS Chamber Choir and Illuminati Vocal Arts Ensemble, prepared by Tony Thornton) and a subset of the SSO presented a radiant account of Mozart’s poignant setting of this fourteenth-century hymn text, written just six months before his death in 1791.

Without missing a beat, the enlarged SSO then tore into the turbulent opening of Mahler’s first movement, subtitled “Funeral Rites.” The brief “Andante” recalled happy memories, while the more boisterous third movement, sometimes echoing the Jewish klezmer music that Mahler loved (in his pre-concert talk, Rhodes even heard “If I Were a Rich Man” from Broadway’s “Fiddler on the Roof” here), was eventually interrupted by what Mahler called a “death shriek.”

In the fourth movement, mezzo-soprano Margaret Lattimore sang a hushed setting of the German folk song “Urlicht” (“Primeval Light”). The death shriek opens the kaleidoscopic 32-minute finale, where Lattimore, soprano Amy Burton, and the chorus sang “Resurrection” verses by German poet Klopstock and Mahler.

The performance of the symphony by all forces was magnificent, one of Rhodes’ finest achievements ever. The SSO’s other “grand finale” on May 18 will be hard put to equal this one