Mahler’s Symphony No.2 in C Minor “Resurrection” is a massive beast using multiple percussionists, a very large brass section (who rather disconcertingly troop on and off stage multiple times), choir and two vocal soloists and it lasts an hour and a half. It’s also a very peculiar animal emotionally; combining almost naive folk dance tunes with passages of haunting beauty and extreme bombast. Last night, in the second of two performances at Roy Thomson Hall, Peter Oundjian and the TSO give it a spectacularly unrestrained performance.
There was a great deal to like. The orchestra was quite excellent. Almost all the wind section principals have important solos which were impeccable. The ensemble was near perfect and the sheer volume of sound the brass produced was a bit mind blowing. The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir gave another very fine performance and the two soloists were fine indeed. Susan Platts’ hauntingly beautiful Urlicht was matched by Erin Wall’s ability to soar over chorus and orchestra apparently effortlessly. The duet was gorgeous; the darker tone of Platts blending with Wall’s brighter timbre in a most pleasing fashion. The Friday night crowd lapped it up and gave one of the longest and loudest ovations I have heard in the hall. And it was deserved.
Why then did I come away less than ecstatic? I think it’s a matter of aesthetics. I’ve never been a huge fan of any art from the late 19th century. There’s a bombast and self satisfaction there that jars with me. Certainly the quicksilver changes of mood in the early part of the piece are weird and jarring and the final section exudes a kind of bourgeois certainty in salvation by wealth and respectability that isn’t a million miles removed from a US drive-in megachurch. It’s just not a place I’m comfortable. Maybe coming to this work through the much more introspective Klemperer recording which I have known for decades prepared me badly for Oudjian’s “balls out” approach? Maybe, as I grow older, my natural instinct to prefer the Apollonian over the Dionysian is becoming more pronounced? Ironically really as my strongest thought after last night was “I need a stiff drink”.