Philadelphia Orchestra continues virtual concert series

By Michael Caruso
Posted 12/18/20

The Philadelphia Orchestra continued its season of “virtual” concerts from Dec. 3 through 6 with a chamber music arrangement of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 4.

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Philadelphia Orchestra continues virtual concert series


The Philadelphia Orchestra continued its season of “virtual” concerts from Dec. 3 through 6 with a chamber music arrangement of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 4. The performance was recorded at the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall and was conducted by music director Yannick Nezet-Seguin.

The very notion of a “chamber music arrangement” of a Mahler symphony seems like a contradiction in terms. The great Austrian composer and conductor was and is best remembered for his over-the-top orchestration. One of his symphonies is even subtitled “Symphony of a Thousand.” His style of scoring is every bit as identifiable as is his harmonic language and melodic personality.

And yet, on a certain level, it’s unfair to consider Mahler’s music little more than its distinctive tonal colorations. There really is honest-to-goodness music behind the orchestration, and this concert proved that beyond the shadow of any doubt over the first weekend of December.

Perhaps the most arresting aspect of the chamber music version is its dependence upon the piano (with an occasional second on hand) and the pipe organ. Fortunately for Nezet-Seguin and the Philadelphians, they can call upon the exemplary piano playing of Kyoko Takeuti and the brilliant organ playing of Paul Jacobs – as well as Verizon Hall’s Fred J. Cooper pipe organ. Takeuti enhanced the tonal timbres of the overall ensemble with biting rhythms while Jacobs proffered beautifully sustained and voiced chords from the stage console.

Under Nezet-Seguin’s inspired leadership, the Orchestra caught the eloquent lyricism, biting dissonances and spiky rhythms of the first movement. In place of a certain unavoidable quality of lumbering, the music came across with transparent agility. Rather than have to struggle to walk, the music danced with vitality. Instead of having to fight to be heard, the woodwinds sang through like an exquisite choir of expressive vocalists. The strings also gained from the reduction of their numbers to that of an expanded chamber ensemble. Concertmaster David Kim’s playing was especially memorable.

The humorous spookiness of the second movement came across efficaciously because the listener was given the chance to appreciate every nook and cranny of the score. Tiny details, often over-looked, stood out brightly.

Nezet-Seguin took the third movement at a slower tempo than that which I would have chosen, but he elicited a rendition from the Philadelphians that seamlessly delivered his interpretation of intense emotional revelation.

Soprano Janai Bugger was the vocal soloist in the fourth movement. She sang with creamy clarity, projecting glowing tones out into the unfortunately empty Verizon Hall. Nezet-Seguin and the Philadelphians supported her with secure sensitivity.

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