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Conductor takes his bow at helm of NZSO with Mahler symphony

New Zealand Symphony Orchestra conducted by Edo de Waart with Lauren Snoufer (soprano), Anna Larsson (mezzo), Orpheus Choir, Voices NZ Chamber Choir.
Mahler Symphony No.2 Resurrection; Michael Fowler Centre 22 November.

No doubt by design, Edo de Waart has both started and ended his reign as Musical Director of the NZSO with large Mahler symphonies.

In 2016 we had the superb (my favourite) Third Symphony, and he finished here with the spectacular Second Symphony – Resurrection. And it is a huge work; a vast orchestra, large choir and two female soloists, that ends in a blaze of sound underpinned by organ – here a digital instrument.

The work begins with a long first movement of tumultuous drama involving the whole orchestra – a dark, ferocious funeral march, tempered by moments of solitary solace from both violin and cor anglais.

After a brief break – specified by the composer – the second movement is a change of mood to that of an Austrian Landler, a mood change that continues with the third movement, although now some violent interruptions break through and it leads into the fourth movement, a setting of one of the Wunderhorn songs.

And then the final movement. It opens with a dramatic return to the ferocity of the first movement and the segues through a dramatic shift of moods that includes an off stage band until the choir enters softly, the soprano enters and the work moves towards its supremely dramatic conclusion.

All of this takes some bringing off, but under the wonderfully knowledgeable direction of maestro de Waart it worked brilliantly.

The orchestral playing was immensely incisive with the off stage band beautifully managed, and the combined choirs, from their hushed entrance to the blazing finish, were wonderfully taut and confident.

The two soloists, although occasionally submerged in the sound – as Mahler surely intended – were excellent, as the  whole reminded us that there are few combinations of musical ensembles in the Southern Hemisphere as well equipped to answer the questions Gustav Mahler asks.

John Button – Dominion Post 24 November 2019

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