Mahler 5 (Kristen Miller)

I was unable to attend the concerts last weekend, but an acquaintance with the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony Orchestra was gracious enough to write her thoughts on the concert…

Mahler 5

by Kristen Miller

Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra performed a fabulous weekend of music by Gustav Mahler. Maestro Honeck and Mezzo soprano Michelle DeYoung opened each concert with the Kindertotenlieder (Songs on the Death of Children), followed in the second half by Symphony No. 5 in C# Minor.

The Kindertotenlieder song cycle opened softly with supportive solos from oboist Cindy DeAlmeida, English hornist Harold Smoliar, and hornist Stephen Kostyniak. Ms. DeYoung offered a skillful and sensitive rendition of the five lieder (songs). She gave a captivating performance that drew the audience through every emotion detailed in Friedrich Rückert’s poems. Under Maestro Honeck’s direction, a perfect synergistic blend was achieved between the orchestra and Ms. DeYoung. Energy and emotion permeated the hall even in softer sections as both dissonance and consonance were embraced. The Kindertotenlieder was a skillful performance not to be forgotten.

The second half of the concert was certainly no less impressive than the first. In fact, I was fascinated by the Pittsburgh Symphony’s performance of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. Principal trumpeter George Vosburgh played the haunting opening call that introduces the symphony with stunning clarity and nobility. The orchestral outbursts that followed produced an enormous wall of sound propelled by the brass section. There was great musical polarity within the first two movements; the orchestra emphasized the changes of character and dynamics with tremendous ease.

There was a pleasing contrast between the third movement and the previous two. In addition to having a lighter orchestration, there were several major horn solos throughout. Principal horn William Caballero performed them with a pureness and depth of tone that displayed his virtuosity and flair. His brilliant sound carried over the orchestra and stirred the audience.

Mahler’s “Adagietto” is perhaps one of his most recognizable pieces. Honeck’s rendition of it was in a word, balanced. The conductor’s connection to the music was very deep, but this was not a ‘soupy’ drawn out performance of the piece. Out of the many emotions that could be elicited from this movement, Honeck brought out a sweetness and tenderness often lacking in other interpretations. It was not overly melancholy, but underlying moods of nostalgia and tragedy remained. Softness and silence fulfilled an equally important role as the louder climaxes, making this an interesting and moving performance.

The fifth and final movement had a sense of triumph and bravado that brought the audience full circle on an almost spiritual journey. The orchestra performed the rollicking rondo with energy and enthusiasm. The symphony ended loudly and as the last echo died away, the audience rose to their feet and cheered. The applause rightfully lasted several minutes for a deserving orchestra and conductor.

In my opinion, this concert was one of the best of the season. Maestro Honeck, Ms. DeYoung, and the orchestra gave an astounding performance of Gustav Mahler’s music.

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