Spokane Symphony Orchestra Friday, Opera House
The Spokane Symphony Orchestra ended its 1996-97 season Friday with a rare and beautiful performance of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 3. For me, it was a dream come true.
In more than 40 years of regular concertgoing, I never had heard a live performance of Mahler’s Third before. The work is long, dense with ideas and difficult to play because of both the stamina and technical skill required. It is difficult to conduct, too - six movements of constantly shifting moods, more like an enormous orchestral fantasy than a conventional symphony.
Mahler loved to turn musical ideas over and over in his mind in much the same way many of us review our frustrations and triumphs in those moments of fantasy just before we fall asleep. Yet, Mahler’s dreamlike world always has formal control. Conductor Fabio Mechetti and his orchestral and vocal forces brought life to that dream on Friday.
The result was nearly two hours of deeply committed playing and singing, a moving performance led by Mechetti. His command of the score would have been plain even if he had not chosen to conduct this massive work from memory.
The performance was rich in wonderful moments of exceptional orchestral playing, such as the third movement’s vibrant post horn solo played offstage by principal trumpet Larry Jess, the nicely phrased trombone solos by David Matern and the skillful use of bells, drums and cymbals by the orchestra’s fine percussion section. And there was the luster and warmth of alto soloist Linda Caple, a Spokane-born singer too long absent in California from Spokane’s musical life.
But in a work of the length and difficulty of Mahler’s Third, there were bound to be disorderly moments. The first movement’s duet between first violin and horn was not quite synchronized. Intonation in the woodwinds was perilous in exposed passages. The symphony’s trumpet section sometimes was divided between those who play ahead of the beat and those who lag slightly behind it.
But these passing uncertainties were more than compensated for by such glorious moments as the thrill of eight horns pealing out the opening theme, the jollity of Hungarian dancing in the second movement and the sweetness of the boys and women singing “The Begging Song of the Poor Children” in the fifth.
For me, the concert was summarized in the closing of the fourth movement. Caple sang Nietzsche’s words to the sensuous commentary of Kelly Farris’ violin, “Joy is deeper still than heartache! Suffering says, ‘Perish!’ But all Joy desires eternity - deep, deep eternity!”
That’s Mahler, all right. And that joy was the essence of Friday’s performance.